how our lives have changed since transitioning Kami

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. 

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.

house.JPG

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. 🙂

Eden received her first full Bible and has been reading and asking us questions!

 

We bike together.

 

We celebrate each other!

 

Our firstborn turned 9.

 

Eden rode a horse at a special friend’s birthday party!

 

Isaiah has taken off in the areas of writing and reading!

 

These three have spent delightful summer days playing together.

 

We’ve made friends with all kinds of creatures in our adventuresome yard, including a spiny orb-weaver just like this one!

 

The beauty of God’s creation is all around us out here.

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

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