things as they are

“It wasn’t about things as she might want them to be in India, or things the way people in England imagined they might be. No, it was about things as they are.”

We’ve been enjoying reading aloud the Christian Heroes: Then and Now biography series by Janet & Geoff Benge. Together the kids and I became friends with Nate Saint and his buddies who entered heaven from a jungle beach in Ecuador in 1956, and our faith grew with George Mueller’s as he served the street children of Victorian England. Right now we’re getting to know Amy Carmichael and how she rocked the missions boat with her passionate urgency to reach people of every caste in India with the gospel at the turn of the 20th century. I referred to Amy once before, inspired by the way she changed her rescued girls’ birthdays to the day they were freed. I recently found myself inspired again by her life.

Fueled by the interest generated by From the Sunrise Landher book of letters from Japan, the Keswick Convention had asked Amy to write a book about India. It took many months of writing and rewriting, but finally Amy felt happy with the result. Then the question came, what to title the manuscript? Amy didn’t want anything too grand or too flowery. She wanted something that was simple and to the point. Finally, she settled on the title Things As They Are. That said it all for Amy. It wasn’t about things as she might want them to be in India, or things the way people in England imagined they might be. No, it was about things as they are.

…It seemed they felt her manuscript was a bit depressing to read. Perhaps, the editor suggested, it needed a lighter touch, more happy stories, and fewer stories about young children and women in unreachable situations. Again Amy was confronted with the desire of Christians in England for “happy missionary, happy ending” stories. She shook her head. If only the committee could have spent a few days with her, they would have quickly seen that for every Arulai [a rescued girl], there were a thousand girls who were temple prostitutes or household slaves. Their lives did not have happy endings, and Amy could not pretend they did. (p. 138)

amy

amy2

Most of us like happy endings, but ministry is messy and often doesn’t result in a neat package adorned with a beautiful bow. Like Amy, we’re committed to sharing the truth whether or not it makes people happy.

Many people, especially those who’ve walked challenging roads with violent behavior in their homes, have given the gift of kind, encouraging words regarding the years and tears we invested in K’s life. They were refreshing to our souls, full of power to help build up during a time when much felt torn down.

We’ve also encountered people who felt the need to tell us how extremely upset they are that their dreams for K’s happy ending with us didn’t materialize. Sometimes people speak with authority on matters they simply don’t understand. I intend to minimize the amount of times I am the one doing this. Here are a few things the Lord gently showed me as we worked through some hurtful words directed at our family:

  1. I should never presume that just because I don’t understand a situation from the outside, God is not working in it. That would be selfish and conceited to expect His ways must always make sense to me.
  2. When someone else is grieving or going through a season of difficulty, my own emotions regarding their situation are obsolete. I don’t need to bring my negative feelings about their difficulty to the table; they’re dealing with enough already. A better option would be to bring grace to the table.
  3. Forgiveness is a moment-to-moment choice. When hurtful words replay and the sting feels fresh, I choose to forgive.
  4. A chance to forgive is a sanctifying experience. It draws me closer to God, so I will not run from opportunities to forgive.

We knew that by choosing to blog about our adoption, we opened up our family to a degree of scrutiny. We don’t regret sharing about K’s adoption. It started with a desire to be transparent about the facts – such as finances and travel timelines – and grew into a desire to share her story of redemption. People who followed her story for years may feel like they know everything, but they don’t.

Amy Carmichael’s example has inspired me to continue telling things as they are. We have an adoption story that did not end up the way many people wanted it to; but we are content in knowing God planned every step and that He clearly showed us which way to turn each time we felt lost. He did this through His Word and through His people.

No matter what our life circumstances, Jesus alone has the words that are more life-giving than the sweetest encouragement from the lips of a friend, and more powerful than the most devastating judgment from the mouth of a critic.

And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. John 6:63

So, how about you – do you tend toward telling things as you might want them to be, as others imagine they might be, or just as they are?

Like Amy, I’m learning to trust God with things as they are!

Christen

 

a story about my mom: a mom who sees

She didn’t see the 3 of us children as obstacles to achieving her goals. Our health and happiness became her goals. My mom provided me a remarkable example of seeing her children not for who she wanted us to be, but for who God created us to be.

I wrote the following entry about my mom in May 2014, when our three children were all under five and we were between trips to Bulgaria to get K. I’d like to share it again, four years and many miles later, in honor of my mom!

 

 

I’m not much for Hallmark holidays, but this entry happens to fall near Mother’s Day. As I proceed into my late twenties and continue to learn how God would have me mother the children He’s given me, I finally have some coherent thoughts to communicate about my mom. It’s taken me these 5 years to start putting them together. It’s easy for a girl who’s close to her dad to write all sorts of pretty tributes to him throughout the years, but sometimes it takes a few beautiful and gritty years of motherhood to help her sort out where in the world to start thanking her mom! 

What I basically have to say is this: my mom is the one who instilled in me the heart of our family culture, which is to see our children. It’s not to simply see our children on the outside, with all their strengths and limitations, and then try to make them fit nicely into a prescribed societal box. No, it requires a willingness to step outside the box entirely. I’m going to share how my mom did that for me. I can’t guarantee it will be exactly accurate, because we all know that kids see things larger than life. I might have some details right and be way off on others, but I’ll leave that to her to correct if she so chooses. This is what I remember about my school years, and these memories continue to impact the way I mother our little ones.

I was a very fearful child, practically afraid of my own shadow – definitely afraid of my own reflection and trees, at times. When I was 3 or 4, my mom took me to preschool. I still remember the feeling that I was somehow supposed to like this. This was a box I knew I was supposed to conform to, but even at this early age, I wasn’t buying it. I remember feeling so out of place in this room that smelled of pencils, paint and glue. I didn’t want to be here. I sat at a little table gluing beads – those ugly triangular ones – to a piece of paper thinking to myself, “I can glue beads on paper at home. Why do I have to stay here? I want to be with my mom. I want to go home.” I must have communicated this in a wisely strategic manner, because Little Big School only lasted 3 days, and I never went back. I guess my mom decided she didn’t want to fight the preschool battle. Maybe I’d be ready for kindergarten, she may have concluded. Nope! Kindergarten taught me what a stomachache really felt like. I didn’t want to say goodbye to my mom to go stuff my things in a cubby hole, play with letters and listen to Mrs. Hammer read stories. I could do those things at home (minus Mrs. Hammer), and I wanted to be with my mom. Again I felt the strange and uncomfortable feeling that I was supposed to like it here; I was supposed to be having fun like everyone else seemed to be doing. But I couldn’t wait to get out of there every day. I remember my mom stuffing my blankie into my backpack pocket to comfort me in the mornings. I don’t think she enjoyed dropping me off, and I surely didn’t enjoy it either. I have a few pleasant memories of getting little toy erasers at the school store with my mom and of my dad visiting my class one day. All the kids were climbing on him, and I was proud that he was my dad. It helped to know that some days my mom was volunteering at the school, cutting out bulletin board decorations and such, which she must have let me watch her do because I remember thinking it looked really fun. More fun than sitting in class or the lunchroom or being herded around with all the other kids in PE class. Halloween season was the worst time of year because I was absolutely terrified of the costumes, decorations and songs. My mom got me out of music class during that time because I couldn’t handle the creepy songs I was supposed to learn. I must have gotten used to the routine at some point, but I can’t tell you if this kindergarten deal lasted for half a year or a whole year. All I know is that I was thrilled when it was over and I could stop trying to fit in. I’m not sure what my mom was thinking during this time, but it’s very likely that her visions of the future were rapidly disintegrating, or at least drastically changing. Whatever it was she had planned on doing while I was in school – maybe working part-time, volunteering, attending a book club, going to lunch with friends – was not looking likely. From my perspective, my older sister Sarah was much better at enjoying school and fitting in there than I was. Either way, my mom was facing some huge decisions when I was 5. The way she negotiated these difficult decisions formed the basis for the way I would make similar decisions with my own children.

Shortly after kindergarten, we moved from Nebraska to Tennessee. I remember visiting a public school open house with my mom. She sat with me through an orientation of sorts and I met the person who would be my first-grade teacher, a Mrs. Rose, I think. My mom didn’t like her. She didn’t like the school, and I think she didn’t like the fact that there weren’t enough windows in the classroom (thanks to my mom, I still carry an attraction to bright rooms with lots of windows). She started homeschooling me and Sarah that year. I was thrilled. I remember coming down to the kitchen table in the morning, learning to tell time and count change. We enjoyed a flexible schedule with plenty of time to play outside, go to the store, ride our bikes, and also get our book work done each day. It felt like a breath of fresh air to my 6- and 7-year-old self. We went to dance and swim lessons and played with neighbors. My mom had done a great thing in my eyes, rescuing me from the institutional school scene. As a homeschooling mom myself now, I’m beginning to imagine how she may have felt quite intimidated, alone, and odd for making the hard choice that she did. Maybe there was also some mourning for the things she had sacrificed to be our full-time teacher. But she saw me for who I was, not who she wanted me to be to suit her own desires. This is key, and I appreciate this so much about the way she raised us all. 

Being on the receiving end of this kind of sacrificial motherly love prepared me to deal lovingly with Ezekiel when he suddenly stopped being willing to go to Sunday school and to endure any sort of childcare, from the military wives’ Bible study I attended on Thursday mornings to the Mothers of Preschoolers meetings I looked forward to twice a month. He was terrified. He would try to crawl out the door of the childcare room after me, clamoring on all fours, crying and screaming and pleading with me, around age 3, to please not leave and please bring me with him. He even vomited out of anxiety one time in the car as we neared the building where he knew he’d be dropped off. I’m tearing up just writing this because I understand now what my mom did for me. She didn’t make me suck it up, stick it out, tough it out until I was hardened to the pain of separation from her. Many well-meaning people told me this was what I needed to do. Why? Because it’s what everyone does. Mainstream society sees no choice but to force acclimation to childcare. My mom chose not to make me tough it out. She wasn’t unhealthily sheltering me, she wasn’t depriving me of “socialization” (a word which would require a separate entry entirely), she was seeing me and loving me. I’m forever grateful. As a result of her example, I was prepared to give up some things I selfishly wanted to do (attend meetings and classes alone) in favor of what my firstborn child needed from me. And it was so simple, what he needed – he needed to be with me, to learn from me, to feel secure with me. Having a firstborn who is so much like me in this area has been a huge blessing. It’s allowed me to apply the example my mom gave me, mirroring some of her sacrifices as I started out on my own mothering career. Of course, thanks to this fantastic example she provided me, I wanted to have several children and home educate them since I was a very young girl; so the homeschooling part was not as groundbreaking a decision for me as it was for her. (If Mason were a writer, he could also produce a long essay for you about how his mother influenced the way we are raising our children. She homeschooled him all the way from preschool through high school.)

 


Around age 11, I started wanting to go to institutional school. It was beginning to look like fun as I was growing out of my painful shyness. We had moved from Tennessee to south Florida, and now we were moving to another city in Florida mainly because of a particular Christian school there that sounded promising. At age 12, I became a regular student for the first time since kindergarten. This time, I wanted to face the challenge and was ready to make the transition. It was hard! I had never been away from my mom for that long (unless you count that one failed attempt at church camp when I was ten), and at different points of the day I was almost in tears and wishing it was time to get picked up (I should mention that I also had an adorable baby brother at home!). My mom was so understanding and encouraging. She encouraged me to stick it out for just the first nine weeks, the first quarter of the school year, and see how I liked it by that point. Sure enough, the first quarter wrapped up and my confidence was growing. I had friends, I was making excellent grades, and even though I was still not a social butterfly, I was learning how to function away from my family. Of extreme helpfulness was the fact that my mom had gotten me one full year ahead in my schoolwork, so as I entered the 7th grade I had already covered all of the material. This was a genius setup, as she knew I would need to focus all my energy on acclimating to new surroundings and not on trying to keep up with the academic pace.

As my 6 years at private school progressed, I enjoyed it more and more. I remember some days my mom would check me out of school early just to take me to Disney World – now that is something most people can’t say! Ultimately it was my parents’ decision to send me to this school that allowed me to meet Mason, since a high school classmate introduced us during our freshman year of college. Their decision to encourage me through the momentous transition from homeschool to regular school when the time was right opened the door to the future God had ordained for me, being Mason’s wife and the mother of our own precious children.

As an adult, it’s become apparent to me that my mom’s and my personalities are not all that similar. This makes all of the ways she cared for me much more amazing, because she wasn’t necessarily doing it out of identification or personal understanding like I do with Ezekiel. She was truly seeing me for who I was, a personality quite different from her own, and laboring to protect and nurture it. She didn’t see the 3 of us children as obstacles to achieving her goals. Our health and happiness became her goals. My mom provided me a remarkable example of seeing her children not for who she wanted us to be, but for who God created us to be. Her sacrificial love and service continue to this day, both to her own children and also to her 3 grandchildren who enjoy every good thing known to little ones whenever they visit her home!

Mom, I am so grateful for your influence on my life, from instilling in me a passion to be a homeschooling mom to encouraging me to make difficult changes when the time was right. I love you and am very grateful to have you in my life and in the lives of Ezekiel, Eden, and Isaiah! I know that for a mom every day is “mother’s day,” so happy Mother’s Day!

weddingday

Christen

an adoption GRACE story

What unfolded during the 3 years, 4 months, 2 weeks, and 2 days during which K lived with our family is a story of grace.

I’ve never been a fan of horror stories of any kind. I remember when I was pregnant with our second child and preparing for our first completely natural birth, I made the decision to avoid or redirect conversations in which women told their purposely sensational and unpleasant natural birth stories. I also don’t enjoy any kind of horror unfolding on a screen before my eyes; I find nothing entertaining about it. Whatever is good, true, pleasing, lovely…think about such things.

When we told people about our plans to adopt a child several years ago, some responded by unloading horror stories on us. I don’t know if their intent was to get us to reconsider, or just to share what they knew about the topic. Either way, we are now on the other side of quite an adoption journey, but it is not one of horror. Though we did experience some horrific things with K, that doesn’t define the experience as a whole. What unfolded during the 3 years, 4 months, 2 weeks, and 2 days during which K lived with our family is a story of grace.

As I’ve said before, adoption is a beautiful thing. It can also be a very complicated thing. The path God called us to was unique, as is every adoption story. So if you choose to read on, know that our experience does not project itself onto any other family. This is simply our experience, and we want to share it with you in praise of the only One who can rescue.

Where I left off in sharing our story with you two months ago, Mason had just enrolled K at our local elementary school. From what we can deduce, she quickly began testing the limits with her teachers. Were they in authority, or was she? At least once, she emerged from the school bathroom with her head, hair and face dripping with hand soap, knowing she did something inappropriate and testing to see if the teachers would enforce the boundaries of social propriety. (If there is a limit, she will test it to see who’s boss.) For K, this test probably looked like approaching a teacher or two and repetitively saying something to the effect of “I discipline you? I spank you?” Spank. It’s not a word generally welcomed by the public school system. K equated the word with training and was wondering if anybody cared enough to train her in this new institutional environment. At least one adult with whom K spoke became alarmed by this talk of discipline, as well as by the bits and pieces of the story which they knew – the tent, the odd situation of Mason dropping her off and picking her up, the unusual fact that I was never seen with her, K’s obvious mental and emotional evidence of longterm abuse and neglect.

So a school official who did not understand her history (the cause of her harmed mental and emotional state) filed an abuse report against us. An investigation followed. Though it was painful to be accused of causing the very hurt we worked so hard to heal in her life, we know that God ordained each of these events. We appeared in court a few days later at an emergency shelter hearing. The hardest part of all this was that we had aggressively sought emergency shelter for her since February 4, the day we found out she was coming back to us after the two-month respite. Now, mid-March, none of our efforts to find safe placement for her and preserve the rest of our family’s safety seemed to matter to the department officials who wrote up the cold, out-of-context report about our family.

We know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. As uncomfortable and frightening as parts of this process were, the Lord was with us. A children’s home society that had formerly rejected K (when we called them in desperation in February) accepted her into their temporary care. With the state now involved, help came swiftly. She was taken to a city a few hours away, presumably to a therapeutic foster home, and several days later I received a call from the staffing specialist at her new school. She was full of compassion for our situation and expressed understanding over the phone, after hearing only a few minutes of K’s life story, about why we could not keep her in our home any longer. She respected our years of experience with her and wanted to glean every helpful piece of knowledge she could from us as the school began to create an educational plan for her. The school psychologist also reached out to me with a similar attitude of compassion and love, walking me through a series of mental and emotional questionnaires about K that would help them provide her with the right services as soon as possible. Through these phone conversations, I was encouraged that God had surrounded her with loving, caring professionals who had a special ability to understand her unique situation.

As days and weeks passed with no word from the private agency we hired to help us find a therapeutic home for K, Mason and I felt the Lord was preparing us to terminate our parental rights. I’m grateful He gave us time to process this idea before the case plan conference last week. Expecting I might need a notepad, I brought one along and recorded some of my thoughts.

It’s raining outside the Juvenile Justice Center, and we are back down to three children. We prayed together before terminating our rights, considered delaying it to keep pursuing private placement, and God gave us peace to release her completely into His hands.

The lawyers told us they’d spoken with one of the case workers this morning, and that as harsh as the report sounds – full of accusations of abuse and neglect, stating lies in black-and-white lacking any and all context – they know it’s not all true. They indicated that they can see the whole picture of what we’re dealing with and how difficult this decision must have been for us, and that the report just says what it has to say. We were stuck between a rock and hard place, one of them explained, because if K had hurt one of our other kids, both children would have been involved and possibly both removed from the home. The report coldly portrayed us as abusive, neglectful parents. But God knows the truth. We swore under oath in the courtroom that we understood what we were doing in terminating our rights. This past month has been painful, but in retrospect it was also the most swift and affordable path possible to bring K to a fresh start. We serve a loving God. 

This is a unique case, we were told several times. There is not a provision for this sort of case. For one lawyer, it was his 3rd case in 90 days dealing with an aggressive adopted child, each leading to the surrender of the parents’ rights. I told him that perhaps God is telling him something; maybe he could be the one to add a clause or process somewhere to smooth the way for families in this situation! He also said he had never worked with parents who showed our level of interest in the child’s future. We simply asked how the department’s permanent placement process works, how she’s doing, if the foster mom is willing to adopt (she isn’t), and what the future could hold for K if she is not adopted again by a certain age. These questions made the social workers quite uncomfortable, as they aren’t accustomed to caring parents, either.

So there we sat in the Juvenile Justice Center, dressed in our Sunday best, the pleasant expressions on our faces showing not delight in the proceedings but peace in knowing only God could have brought us to this place. It was confusing, but it was His doing. As we sat in the courtroom to affirm under oath that we knew what we had signed, I looked around at all of the faces: the social workers who refused to make eye contact with us, the judge, the police officers, the attorneys. I realized in that moment that each of these people had become a part of K’s story. God was working through everyone there to bring closure to this chapter of our family’s history and to deliver K to the next chapter of her life. He saved her life, and He will never leave her.

The wheels have been set in motion to find a permanent new home for K as soon as possible. Barring a miraculous crossing of paths down the road, we won’t be able to update you about her anymore after this, friends. So many of you have cheered, cried, prayed, laughed, and walked with us these past few years as we loved her through a transitional season of her life, the season for which God ordained her to be with us. Thank you!

As Mason and I walked out of the Juvenile Justice Center together into the pouring rain, it felt cleansing and healing. Our home is healing. We are settling in all over again, coming down from the heightened level of stress that seemed to define us for the past few years. Our three children are growing and recovering from what they absorbed, although they were miraculously protected. Eden still mentions K from time to time and draws her in her art projects. We purposely talk about her and pray for her so it doesn’t become as if she never happened. This is a story for our grandkids, and our kids’ grandkids, to know. The big lesson we came away with was to keep attempting great things for God and keep expecting great things from God (a phrase borrowed from William Carey), but to never assume that we know how it will go, and to never predicate our obedience on a certain outcome.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

Christen

 

pickup day 2.0

We know Who brought her back into our lives for this season. As sweet Eden matter-of-factly stated, “God wasn’t surprised when Kami decided to attack the other kids.” Nope, He wasn’t. We might not be her forever family, but we are her today family, and we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow.

Drowning in anxiety. This was an appropriate description of me when we heard our respite time was coming to an end much sooner than we’d hoped.

Unlike the original version, Pickup 2.0 happened in a Chick-fil-a parking lot in Georgia. Let me go back and explain: back in December, we realized after 3 1/2 years (about 1,230 faith-stretching days) of daily battles won and lost that we desperately needed a break. We were prepared to pay for a local 10-day respite over Christmas when, unexpectedly, some experienced friends who knew about Kami’s situation offered to give her a fresh start. They were willing and eager to provide not only a respite, but to potentially welcome her into their family on one condition. The one condition was that she must not physically attack their other children. Well, Kami had many problems in our home, but attacking other kids hadn’t been one of them, so we moved forward believing that this may be Kami’s second chance.

After we delivered Kami to the respite home on December 14, 2017, it didn’t take long for her to begin a disturbing display of aggressive behaviors – things she never did with us. Looking back, I imagine she may have wanted to be aggressive against our kids, but chose (wisely) not to. We saw glimpses of this lurking urge over the years, but we never gave it room to develop, and we also gave her the benefit of the doubt. Surely she wasn’t being malicious, we assumed? For whatever reason, she viewed her change in environment as a chance to act out in new and horrifying ways. So, two glorious months of peace and rest later, we found ourselves with Kami back in our care. In my mind, this was NOT how my plan for rest in the new year was supposed to unfold!

Just days before Pickup 2.0, Mason and I had the joy of traveling together to visit two of our sending churches in Louisiana. While there, we enjoyed a sweet and too-brief time of reconnecting with special people who knew us before the adoption, counseled us through it, and loved us after it. As I related my desperate fears about taking Kami back and reiterated why I just couldn’t do it after all we’d been through and all she’d done, one friend shared with me Psalm 18:34. “He trains my hands for battle; he strengthens my arm to draw a bronze bow.” Now, this was not exactly what I wanted to hear, because it implied God was going to ask us to do the thing we really didn’t want to do. We were looking for a quick escape, but God was pulling us closer to Him and deeper into His heart by asking us to do the impossible. Again. (Thank you for sharing that Scripture with me, Marsha! You are one of a precious group of people who God strategically placed to speak truth to us at just the right moments in recent weeks.)

This is a time of creative solutions for our family. Mason spent a week living in his parents’ spare room with Kami to figure out this new little girl he picked up in the Chick-fil-a parking lot. That living arrangement only lasted one week because the kids wanted him home so badly. They can understand him traveling out of state, or taking a trip to the other side of the world; but Dad living across town was hard for them to accept. He now sleeps on our couch while Kami sleeps in a tent in the living room – the only safe place for her, since she’s unable to share a room and we don’t have an extra one. Because each of the 12 (yes, TWELVE!) children’s homes we called refused Kami, he is finding creative ways to make this arrangement work. While we await her second placement, Mason decided that public school was the best course of action, and he made it happen. This is her first week.

The reason Mason is doing all of this is so I can hang on to the big strides in personal recovery I was able to make during the two-month respite, and so that Ezekiel, Eden and Isaiah can have my full attention during this transitional time. I am learning that even the most restrictive limits and boundaries can be healthy when in the best interest of everyone. We have other children to protect and the peace of our home to preserve. We have the ability, by God’s grace and guidance, to field this situation wisely. Mason is now able to go to the office during Kami’s school hours, but she has been his main ministry in recent days. I have never, ever been more grateful for or aware of the blessing he is to me. He is laying down his life for me, choosing to keep me separated from Kami (even if he and I can’t be together) rather than risk my health and sanity by placing us in close quarters again. He is more of a gentle, strong, capable leader than I ever noticed before. He is leading us so well!

trauma
Above is a simple glimpse into how this kind of parenting can lead to parental PTSD, particularly for moms.

Now for some good news: our friends who kept her for the two months started her on a miraculous medication. Having been through intense drug withdrawals with her in the beginning, and not being familiar with any positive aspects of pharmaceutical usage, this was a route we hadn’t even considered taking; but it’s made a huge difference in her demeanor. She doesn’t rage nearly as often as before.

Since coming back into our home, Kami has attempted to lash out against the kids in new ways; but Mason is doing an amazing job of keeping them separated and keeping her supervised round the clock. They’re not afraid of her, but we all know this isn’t the ideal environment for her. We are working with an agency that specializes in placing kids from similar backgrounds to Kami into families where they can “be the baby” and have the chance to flourish. Our hope and prayer is that very soon her forever family will be found. Feelings are deceiving and not to be trusted at face value, but from day one we didn’t feel like Kami’s forever family. We were never motivated by our need for a child, but by this child’s need for a chance at life. From the moment we signed her final adoption papers in that stifling office in Sofia, Bulgaria, this felt like a life or death rescue mission. We played our role, and we will assume it is concluding until and unless God tells us otherwise.

The worst, most untrue thing anyone could say to us is that adopting Kami was a mistake. We will forgive you if you say that, but please know you are mistaken. It is never a mistake to obey God, and He is the One who drew us to her name, picture, and story. It is never a mistake to show the love of Jesus to a hurting person to whom He specifically calls you to minister, even if it means personal risk. 

We know Who brought her back into our lives for this season. As sweet Eden matter-of-factly stated, “God wasn’t surprised when Kami decided to attack the other kids.” Nope, He wasn’t. We might not be her forever family, but we are her today family, and we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. Our responsibility is to honor God and live the Word, which we continue to do to the best of our ability.

So, what is God asking you to do that’s causing you to panic? Have you, too, thrown temper tantrums in your spirit because things aren’t working out the way you planned? When you know the Lord personally, every trial becomes a force that pulls you closer to Christ. The most desperate, intensely challenging times of my life are the ones in which I most powerfully experience the realness of my relationship with Jesus. Michael W. Smith sings it well: “I may look like I’m surrounded, but I’m surrounded by you.”

 

Surrounded,

Christen 🙂

a welcome challenge for 2018: rest

My word for 2018 comes at the perfect time in our family’s life: it’s REST. Oh, Jesus, thank you for giving me this word for the year!!! I’m not sure I’ve ever been so excited about my marching orders before. However, I’m starting to realize that it won’t be as easy as it first seemed.

“January’s been going on for a long time,” our 8-year-old recently declared. I feel the same way, but the first month of the new year always feels exciting to me, so I don’t mind the feeling of it lasting a long time. Ezekiel’s perception also factors in his concussion at the end of December from falling out of a tall tree, a whopper of a sickness that knocked our family out for two weeks, and his sister’s fun-filled birthday celebration. (She is able to maintain a fever-pitch of excitement that I believe he finds a bit exhausting. :))

Last year I shared with you my word for 2017, joy. My word for 2018 comes at the perfect time in our family’s life: it’s REST. Oh, Jesus, thank you for giving me this word for the year!!! I’m not sure I’ve ever been so excited about my marching orders before. However, I’m starting to realize that it won’t be as easy as it first seemed. Rest doesn’t always come easy, but I’ve already located a favorite spot in the house for little retreats throughout the day, and I’m learning about making the choice to carve out intentional resting time. Ecclesiastes 3 says, “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.” I’m so grateful that this includes a time for rest! My all-time favorite Scripture about rest comes from Matthew 11, where Jesus says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Rest for the soul! That’s something every single person in this world desperately needs if they haven’t yet found it. I’m beyond grateful for this indescribable gift, found in a personal relationship with Jesus, that allows my soul to be at peace no matter what is happening around me.

rest

Along the lines of rest is respite, a term commonly used in the foster and adoption world when a consistently high level of trauma in the home necessitates a period of purposeful rest. Merriam-Webster defines respite as an interval of rest or relief, and we began 2018 with a respite of this kind. It was time to step back, allow ourselves to breathe for the first time since July 28, 2014, and prayerfully pursue God’s best for the child He asked us (and equipped us) to rehabilitate. God allowed us the privilege of seeing the miracle of a whole life transformation unfold in our home over the course of three and a half years! I would say there are no words to describe what we witnessed, but I have clearly put plenty of words to it, as you can see by perusing the blog archives. 🙂

Kami progressed so far in the three and half years since pickup day that she is now a completely different person. In fact, the difference is that she is now a person rather than a shell of a person! After the drug withdrawals, and after she learned the basics of family life and decent social behavior, and after she learned that her basic needs would be met each day, a child emerged. This new child came with a new set of needs that were finally able to surface a few months ago, praise God!

In the fall, we recognized for the first time that some of these needs could, by the very nature of our family, not be met in our home moving forward. At this point we had a choice: to continue on and pretend everything was fine, seeing Kami’s newly revealed set of needs go unmet, resigning all six of us to an existence that was clearly not abundant life, or to desperately and humbly cry out for help, trusting the God who made Kami and began her rescue to carry it through to completion using whatever means He chose. He surrounded me with not one, not two, but three fellow adoptive moms of children from similarly difficult beginnings in Bulgaria who had made difficult (and unpopular) choices to do what was best for their children. One of them has bravely written about her journey on her blog, Faith’s Feat. She has been a partner in prayer and encouragement to me since before we even brought Kami home, and to say I’m grateful to know her is an understatement. She writes far more articulately than I do about some of the hardest things in life, and with such grace and transparency.

Older child international adoption is a beautiful, complicated, messy miracle, and it can take a huge variety of paths. Our daughter Eden was born to us seven years ago. As we celebrated her birthday this month, I marveled at Kami’s seven years in the orphanage…seven years. Year after year of hunger, pain, unmet needs for affection and healthy touch, loneliness, neurological damage, stunted development, and so much more. As I rewound the years in my mind, thinking through the compounding interest of hurt accumulating in Kami’s young heart (and the hearts of the many, many children like her around the world), seven years seemed like an eternity. When a child has been this deeply wounded for this long, healing does not necessarily look like a smooth process of transition directly from the institution to a “forever family” where healthy emotional bonds grow unhindered. It can take a journey with several stops, a relay race of families in partnership with agencies, therapies, and specialists, to bring this child to a place of abundant life. We were the first stop in the relay race for Kami’s healing.

This past month of respite, during which we’ve been in close communication with her spectacular and experienced temporary caregivers, has revealed some extremely helpful things. Kami’s deepest unmet need moving forward appears to be the need to be the baby. We agree with them that she could thrive in a home where she is either the only child or the youngest by several years. Mason and I can attest to this from the few special times we’ve shared with her alone, just the three of us. At this stage in her recovery, she desperately needs a degree of attention and physical presence that can’t be met with other little ones in the house. She deserves the chance to be the baby, and I believe that given that chance, she will be able to heal and flourish in unimaginable ways! Of all the things that God equipped us to do, He has not equipped us to make Kami our baby. On the contrary, He strategically used our other three young ones (one of which was a baby when we welcomed her into our home) to teach her how to be a kid. They taught her to climb, play, laugh, hug, watch movies, and everything else that comes naturally to a pack of well-loved little ones. But now Kami has graduated from the pack. Among other things, she needs extended one-on-one time and the opportunity to revisit the unbelievably crucial baby stage for as long as she needs to, filling in gaps that are essential to her becoming a healthy and whole person.

To all of you who love her as much as we do – who’ve cheered for her every step of the way toward healing – who want the best for her – pray with us for God to make clear the path ahead. John 10:10 tells us that Jesus came not just so we could have life, but have it to the full. Only He knows what this looks like for Kami, and we are trusting Him to show us the next step.

What are you carrying that makes you weary and burdened? Come to the only One who can give you rest.

Resting securely in Him,

Christen

 

 

 

greater things have yet to come

I am no victim

I live with a vision

I’m covered by the force of love

Covered in my Savior’s blood

I am no orphan

I’m not a poor man

The Kingdom’s now become my own

And with the King I’ve found a home

 

He’s not just reviving

Not simply restoring

Greater things have yet to come

 

facepalm

 

He is my Father

I do not wonder

If His plans for me are good

If He’ll come through like He should

‘Cause He is provision

And enough wisdom

To usher in my brightest days

To turn my mourning into praise

 

KJ

 

I am who He says I am

He is who He says He is

I’m defined by all His promises

Shaped by every Word He says

 

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.

Believing that greater things have yet to come,

Christen

 

 

they put their trust in you and were never disappointed

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.

img_2461

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!)
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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!

3 kids

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.

Christen

lost girls & record chaos

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,

Christen 🙂

 

 

find them, push them, respect them: your limits

Some limits are meant to be pushed, and others are to be respected.

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:

do not push

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.

These words were gifts to me. 🙂

Christen

 

a determined sister & a painful lesson

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

 

Christen