Back when we moved into our cozy cabin last fall – which at first felt anything but cozy – our resident stoic, Ezekiel, wisely stated that it would take “a month or a season or a year” for us to get used to it. It’s nice to have a rational person or two in this family, someone who can say practical things in difficult moments. We’re coming up quickly on a year here, and boy, was he right. We are content, grateful, and joyful to finally feel settled… like we’re home. We’re home after 7 years of constant change in the Air Force before God brought us to Mason’s dream job; home after a couple years of living in a rented house that we knew was a short-term solution; and home after a long attempt to acclimate someone into our family who was becoming increasingly agitated by these efforts. We had no idea what was to come when we moved into this house in the woods! God in His mercy led us to this simple, beautiful retreat because He knew exactly what was to come.
Sorting our thoughts is a work in progress. Explaining what transpired still takes effort. There’s still more for us to process. Here is what I can share with certainty: God has used these last several months to tear down idols in my heart, specifically the idols of others’ approval and my status with them. We’ve drawn closer to Christ, recognizing our total dependence on Him, and gained an overflow of grace for suffering people.
Some friends may be unsure of how much tiptoeing is necessary and wondering how and what we’re doing as a family these days. This update is for you! 🙂
I don’t know if Ezekiel, Eden and Isaiah were already thriving like this before, and maybe I just didn’t have the time or energy to notice; but each of their unique personalities seems to have exploded in a good way since April! They’re free to verbally process what they saw and experienced with Kami, and occasionally they’ll make a statement or ask a question that opens the door for a heart-to-heart. What Kami wasn’t able to do with us anymore was thrive. Ezekiel, Eden and Isaiah are now, by the grace of God, thriving in increasing measure!
We’ve been retracing some of our steps, from visiting favorite recreational spots as a family of five, to simply allowing ourselves to soak up special days like birthdays apart from the stress created by unmet needs. I think what made our home feel like a war zone was the vast array of unmet needs which we were not equipped to meet. Home is now a haven again. As we retrace these steps, we’re accepting the fact that that was then and this is now. We thank God for the past and look expectantly toward the future!
We don’t know where Kami is now, nor do we have the legal right to know. One friend visiting our house recently said something to the effect of “if a child can’t thrive here, she might not be able to thrive in any home!” We’ve come to the same conclusion through talking with experts and reprocessing tough memories. A traditional family setting may not always work for someone with Kami’s history. A group home or institution, one far superior to the one she left in Bulgaria, may be the place for her. Only God knows, and it all goes back to our faith in Him as her (and our) Rescuer. He used us to bring her across the ocean to a place where she could get the help she needs.
My experience as an adoptive mom shaped me in profound ways, and my recovery has taken its own form apart from that of Mason and the kids. In recalling my word for the year, rest, I’ve been doing a lot of it, particularly in the form of reading and music. I’ve spent time with Shakespeare, Austen, Tolkien, Alcott, Bronte, Lindbergh, and more. I read aloud to the kids for long, relaxed periods; we take trips to the library and sit on our living room floor beside tall stacks of books, delighting in going through them one by one. We play board games, and on weekends and evenings the five of us can laugh and connect without Mason and me needing to divide and conquer.
Out of respect for Kami’s new life and acknowledgement of the closed chapter of our time with her, we no longer feel comfortable sharing photos of her; but we have many of them and we look at them together often. If the LORD blesses us with more children, we will tell each of them about her, and although it might come out awkwardly as it’s still in the processing phase, we’ll keep on telling her story to the praise and glory of God when an appropriate opportunity comes up.
Here are some snapshots of our family life over the past few months, so you can take a peek into what our thrive looks like right now. 🙂
No matter how at home or out of place we may feel through various stages of our lives, as followers of Christ we know this world is not our home! What we have to look forward to in eternity is way better than the most serene landscape we could find here.
Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain.Psalm 127:1
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 Land, her 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)
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:
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.
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.
Forgiveness is a moment-to-moment choice. When hurtful words replay and the sting feels fresh, I choose to forgive.
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!
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!
My mom with brand new Ezekiel
My mom with me and 1-year-old Ezekiel
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.)
Me at 3
Me at 12
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!
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!
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.”
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.
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. 🙂