Sunday, December 29, 2013

Not Taking on a Lot - I Serve with Joy

"You're taking on a lot, having two of them," she said in that matter-of-fact, almost accusatory way school teachers sometimes have. 

One of the things I love most about my job as an occupational therapist in sub-acute rehab is the opportunity to build rapport and share life with my patients. 

In between exercises, Mary*, a retired high school math teacher, and I were chatting about the holidays. I had just shared about how my emotions ran high over Christmas as it was Bo's first with us. She had a lot of questions about our adoption of him and even more when she found that he is not the only child we have with Down syndrome. That's when she said it:
You're taking on a lot, having two of them.
The sentiment is not new to me. We heard it a lot when we were in process to bring Bo home, and at that time, I was pretty good at deflecting the skepticism, so sure was I in our mission. But that was a long time ago. I am out of practice. I mumbled something unconvincing and introduced the next set of exercises. 

I couldn't get it out of my mind and in the middle of the night when Bo woke me with his nightly thumping to stim himself back to sleep, I stayed awake. You're taking on a lot...You're taking on a lot...You're taking on a lot. It was a relentless refrain, one that seemed eerily familiar.

And then I realized.

Back when I heard the sentiment frequently, before we met our favorite orphan, I began to believe it was true. The seed was planted. This is going to be hard. I'm not sure we're up for this. We're taking on a lot.

After meeting him and realizing just how developmentally delayed he was, the idea grew. He is more like an infant than a three-year-old. We will need to do everything for him. We're taking on a lot.

Coming home and experiencing the sudden impact of three in diapers, all of which enjoying a strange urge to paint with poo, and it was no longer an idea. It was a fact. We have taken on a lot. 

Every doctor appointment that led to another specialist that led to another test, interspersed with the needs of our other seven kids, was a greater solidification of that fact. I began to believe it with every fiber of my being. We are in over our heads. It is so much. I'm not sure I can do this. We have taken on a lot. 

I wore it as a cloak. I wrapped myself in it and found comfort in the self pity it afforded and resigned myself to my fate. So when I was confronted with it in the subtle accusation of my patient, I had no answer. Deep down, I had been agreeing with her for the last ten months. 

My middle of the night realization made me see it for what it is. It's a lie. "We have taken on a lot," and every discouraging thought that goes along with it, is a lie. 

The truth is simple:
Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. Deuteronomy 30:11 
I can do everything through Him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13 
This is not too much. We did not take on some big burden by adopting Bo into this family or even having a family this size. The evidence I used to convince myself otherwise simply boils down to my own inflexibility, and lofty, and therefore unmet, expectations for myself and others. 

I'm ashamed of myself. I'm ashamed that I so quickly bought the lie and that I wallowed in it for so long. But with the recognition of truth comes a heart change. Too long I've been kicking against the goads. This is not who I want to be or how I want to view my world. 

I need a new mantra. I refuse to don the cloak of self pity anymore. Upon prayer and reflection, one thought kept repeating. 

I serve with joy.

That's what I want my response to be. That's the refrain I want to have coursing through my veins. More prayer than statement of faith, more plea than testimony at this point, I serve with joy is a perfect resolve for the new year. When people ask me how I do it, I want to honestly answer by year's end, I serve with joy. 

Of course, I've already had opportunity to try it out. The other night I left my sick husband and spent the night in the ER with an even sicker Bo who was having some signs of respiratory distress. After a dose of oral steroids, we were released and crept back into the house at 4:30 hoping to get at least a few hours of sleep. As I was putting Bo back in his bed, Eon sat up, looked at me, and proceeded to vomit all over himself and his blanket. I'm not sure I'd call it serving with joy exactly, but I did find myself laughing at the absurdity of the situation. 

Baby steps.

*Not her real name.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Two Worlds

It's the middle of December and I find myself on the ride that has no working brakes. Careening along from one festive event to the next harried shopping trip with no time to reflect in between. 

I do my best thinking while driving. While logistically it's a pain in the behind, I'm happy that we chose to move Bogdan's care to the much farther away Peyton Manning Children's Hospital if for no other reason than the chance to reflect during the drive. Earlier in the week was an appointment day to follow up on his recent ear surgery. Once we received a good report, my mind was able to wander peacefully on the drive home.

When did we allow ourselves to become so busy with things that don't really matter? Better question: At what point does a country become so affluent it convinces its citizens that wants are really needs? 

I thought about the things I need to do in the next few days. One of the things on my list is, "buy tape." I need to spend my time and gas going to a store to pick up some tape so that I can then take that tape and use it to wrap up gifts in paper, paper I already spent money on specifically so it can be ripped up and thrown away. 

Does anyone else see the lunacy in that? Or are we all so brainwashed by the norm that we fail to see the folly in our daily routine?

They made a mistake on the radio, this morning. They played this song twice within minutes of each other. 

Once was enough to punch me in the gut. Twice was my undoing. So again, I find myself caught between two worlds. 

There is the world I live in here, in the land of plenty and pretend, where tape and wrapping paper are needs and I must battle crowds and traffic, dip into my bank account to purchase them, and keep myself away from my family while doing so. 

And then there is the world that seems to be a universe apart from this one, but is actually so close I can almost touch it. 

The world in which children are alone. 

The world in which they have no mamas and no papas to keep them safe from the older kids in the institution who abuse them as they themselves were once abused. The world in which it is thought, no assumed, that children with cognitive disabilities cannot feel pain so they are slung around by one arm and thrown into their cribs, if they leave their cribs, at all. The world in which children can be so starved and so neglected they can weigh a measly ten pounds at nine-years-old.

The fact that I cannot reconcile these worlds may one day drive me mad. 

I choose to believe that the latter world is closer to the heart of Christmas than the former. The glimmering world of tinsel and bows, where tape is a need, seems far removed from the humble stable where my Savior was born. He cares about these orphans, too. 
But Jesus said, "Let the children come to me. Don't stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these." Matthew 19:14
So on my trip to buy the oh-so-necessary tape, I cry. I cry and I pray that He will draw near to them and keep them safe. I pray that He will open eyes and move hearts in this land of pretend and plenty; that others will see with His eyes and let the children come. And I pray that I will find a way to meld my worlds; that while my feet must stay in this one, my heart will stay soft and very much connected to the other, that has nothing whatsoever to do with tape and tinsel, but so much more to do with Christmas.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Absolutely and Bologna

My boy's surgery was a complete success which was an odd reason to find myself sobbing all the way home from the hospital, but there I was. He will hear and, more importantly, he will live, neither of which he would do were he left in his home country of Serbia. 

I'm not being dramatic. The ENT confirmed that the cholesteatoma had already eaten away two of the three major bones of his ear and started to damage the third, though it was saved. It was only a matter of time before it entered his brain and caused eventual death. 

I told someone recently how grateful I am that he's here and able to get this surgery. Predictably, she gushed, "God must have a great plan for his life to have brought you all the way to him to save his life!"

Absolutely...and bologna.

Absolutely because I firmly believe that God does indeed love Bogdan and has a plan for his life. I do believe that God sent us to him. But bologna, because there are thousands of other children whose lives are not saved, who remain orphans, and who die alone. 

Does that mean God does not have a plan for their lives? Does He not love them? Does He not care about them? Why doesn't He send someone to save them?

And this is why I found myself sobbing, partly in gratitude for the boy that has captured my heart, and partly in sorrow for the others that are left behind. 

I'll be honest with you. After pouring out my heart to the Lord, I don't think the orphan crisis is God's fault. I fully believe He loves and cares for and has a plan for each and every orphan out there. I think He does send us and we're too busy to listen or we think adoption is for the super spiritual or the called. We think we're not patient enough or wealthy enough or strong enough or just enough. So we do nothing. 

And I wonder, where is faith? None of us is enough. That is kind of the point of the gospel. On our own, we are nothing, we have nothing, and we can do so very little. But in Jesus, we are children of the living God. We have everything we need for life and godliness, and we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.

I have to remind myself of this over and over again. I don't have to be enough. Clearly, I am not. I am ridiculously inadequate in every possible way. Thank God, that's okay.

He is enough.

You don't have to be called, either. I don't know where this idea comes from. In our large family, my kids hear me say all the time, "You see a need, you fill it. If you see something that needs doing, and you are able to, do it. If there is a pile of stuff at the bottom of the stairs waiting to go to the top, take the stuff with you when you go upstairs. If you are near the sink and a little person asks for a drink, fill his sippy cup. If you find an empty box in the pantry, throw it away." It's not a difficult concept, right? You see a need, you fill it. 

You don't have to be called to adopt. 

I can't find the idea anywhere in Scripture that meeting a need is something that only a select few are called to do. 

Instead I find this: 
For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me. Then these righteous ones will reply, "Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or a naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?" And the King will tell them, "I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!" Matthew 25:35-40

There is no question of need. Over one hundred thousand children available for adoption in the United States foster care system alone. Millions of children institutionalized internationally. Sixteen-year-old girls aging out of orphanages and immediately entering prostitution. Children dying of ridiculous things like benign ear tumors, for crying out loud. A Teenage boy standing up in front of a church begging for a family, for someone just to care enough to take him to football practice.

There is no mystery here. Adoption is not for the super spiritual or those that feel called or equipped or whatever. It's for those who see a need and are willing to fill it. It's rife with complexity, but can start with a simple acknowledgment, as it did for me:
There is a child that has no one. I am someone. He can have me.
I have always been a dreamer. I'm a visionary. I am not, however, one who follows through. I have started more projects than I can possibly begin to list for you, but I can count those finished on one hand. I don't know why international adoption is among those finished. I'm guessing the answer is grace. His strength, His endurance, His tenacity, His patience...certainly nothing whatsoever to do with me. It is with utter humility and gratitude that I reminisce. 

So big, giant, crocodile tears run down my face for this boy who was a stranger to me just a year ago, but now is my son. He is worth it. He is worth all the hoops that we jumped through, the paper chasing, the scrimping, the fundraising, the anxiety, the travel, etc. I would do it all again and then some. 

If you have ever considered adoption, I want you to know, to really understand, that your child is worth it, too. Your child, the one that has not yet stolen your heart simply because you have not yet laid eyes on him or her, waits for you, perhaps in a country in which you have never landed. He's worth it, you know. She's worth it. Take a leap.

I know that adoption is not a need every Christian will fill. We are not all going upstairs or near the sink or reaching in the pantry. I get it. Please do not tell me how you are not in a position to adopt or how unhealthy it would be for someone that you know to adopt, etc. 'Cause honestly? I waffle between Absolutely and Bologna on this one, too. Tell Jesus. He's the only One who can change circumstances and mend hearts, k? We are all responsible for the fatherless, though, and if adoption is not your thing, support those that are trying to fund an adoption, take a meal to those who have recently adopted, provide respite care, sponsor an orphan, get involved in a Big Brother/Sister type program, pray for orphans, etc. Most importantly, ask Jesus what He wants you to do and do that!

Sunday, November 17, 2013


Sometimes, I don't realize how hard things are until they get easier. And sometimes, I don't recognize they've gotten easier until they just have and I realize I have time to breathe again. 

Such is the case with Bo. My last update on our lives with him was pretty raw and real and filled with angst. Since then, he's made some significant progress and our lives have gotten easier. 

He's learned to respond to the word no. He doesn't always obey, but a firm No is often enough to buy us some time to get to where he is and prevent him from inflicting whatever damage he had his mind set on at the time. That few seconds of borrowed time has brought a huge sigh of relief to our home. 

With the added visual cue of an outstretched hand, he responds to, "Come here." Not having to physically pick him up every time we want to change his location is such a gift. He will now willingly come to the dinner table or to get a diaper change and those things sound so small, but it's those little things that add up to making big changes in our world. 

So many other things are clicking with him, too. He's started eating with utensils which is HUGE! Not every meal or for the whole meal, but more often than not. He still makes every bit as big of mess as when he digs in with both hands, but we don't care. We have been working on this for months in therapy and always provide utensils for him at home. Every meal, we initiated a couple of bites with hand over hand and every meal, he chucked the spoon at his first opportunity. One day, he just didn't and ate two bowls of chili with his spoon while I stabilized the bowl and the rest of the family cheered like crazy. 

He started attending developmental preschool three afternoons a week which has been so good for him, too. I took him for his pre-surgery blood draw recently. After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, they finally called him back. There was a child-sized table with a coloring station set up and he immediately climbed into the chair. I cringed expecting him to take big handfuls of the crayons and start flinging them or sweep everything off the table with his arm as he is wont to do. But, he completely blew me away by grabbing the nearest crayon and scribbling on the picture. Amazing! (Two minutes later, when the lab tech distracted me with questions, he took big handfuls of crayons and flung them, but still...)

Speaking of surgery, tomorrow is a big day. Bo is having a tympanomastoidectomy (ear surgery) due to a cholesteatoma which was discovered when he had tubes placed in September. He will have an overnight stay at Peyton Manning's Children's Hospital which will be a new experience for us. Shawn will be staying all night with him which is the right choice given their bond, but a tough choice for this medical nerd and control freak to handle. 

It is always hard to hand your child off to an anesthesiologist. It's especially hard when the bond of trust between you is new and feels so tenuous and you know he will wake up frightened and in pain. He usually tolerates pain pretty well. He does not, however, tolerate oximeters, bandages, blood pressure cuffs, IVs, wrappings, and strappings of any kind and he will have all of those. He has been known to remove coban around an IV with his toes when a nurse turned around for five seconds, so prayers in this regard are greatly appreciated. This is one of those surgeries where the potential risks are the same as not having surgery, only much less so. We know it's the right thing to do, but it's still hard. 

So I guess the increase in function has made things easier in the day to day, but what we risk in the loving, that only gets harder as we have to let go a little bit. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Boots of Rememberance

He remembers. These boots that drew his attention to me, just one adult in a sea of many the first day we met, he remembers them. I wondered if he would when I zipped them on this morning. I haven't worn them since the early days of his time home and the Indiana weather is finally cooperating and acting the season.

I find it incredibly hard to believe that it was only nine and a half months ago that I was seeing this child for the very first time. It seems he has always been a part of us. There were a lot of us crowding into the foster family's humble home that day - Shawn and I, our translator, the social workers, their driver, plus some curious extended family members of the foster family. All of us were focused on this tiny little boy. 

All were vying for his attention. Instinctively, I slid to the floor. 
It was less than a minute before B came over and started touching my boots. He started patting them and tried to lick them a few times. "Ne! Ne!" He giggled. It wasn't long before he was hiding his toys under my legs and then pulling them apart to find them again. Then he belly laughed. Oh my heart! That boy can laugh! When he laughs, his eyes completely disappear. Cutest thing, ever! --blog post, First Visit, Jan. 30, 2013

At the time, I had no way of knowing how very important shoes were to this boy. He loves shoes. In fact, that was his very first word in ASL. His favorite way to decompress after preschool is to close the door to my closet and rearrange my shoes. Shawn often finds matchbox cars in his boots when he puts them on for work at night. His foster family showed us a picture of his third birthday cake. It was shaped like a shoe. We didn't understand it at the time. We do now.

This morning, I sat on the floor and called him over to show him my boots. He reached out and slowly patted them, then, without warning, he lunged for me and wrapped his arms around my neck and held me. For five minutes, my son who is rarely still, sat in my lap and held me close. 

I think he remembers. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Dispelling Myths

I was reading a book to Eon that paraphrased the Lord's prayer for children. As I was reading, we were discussing the pictures and the text.

The drawing portrayed a little girl angrily yanking the stuffed bear from a little boy and ripping its paw in the process. The little boy was crying and the text read, "And forgive us when we do wrong things."

"Do you do wrong things, Eon?"

Shaking his head, "No. Bo!"

"Oh, Bo does wrong things. Does anyone else?"

"Um," signs and says, "Zak!" Pats my arm, signs and says, "And, Ben." Thinks for a minute, "Tali!"

"So, Bo, Zak, Ben, and Tali do wrong things. Is anyone else naughty at our house?"

He looks very thoughtful for a second and then brightens and announces, "KJ!"

"Eon, what about you? Are you ever naughty?"

Chuckles and responds, "Nooooo."

"What about Mick? Does she do wrong things?" 

He looks at me like I've lost my marbles and shakes his head, "No! Mick, BIG!" as he raises both arms high in the air.

He's right. His almost-seventeen-year-old sister is very tall. 

"How about Daddy?" 

"No! "Daddy, Big, too!" said incredulously and suspiciously, like he's just now realizing Mommy may not be playing with a full deck. 

I tried again. "Eon, are you sure you don't do anything wrong...ever?" 

Emphatically, he leaned in, did not make eye contact, and yelled, "NO! BO bad!" This time I caught a hint of a mischievous little smile.

I've been watching Eon do his own version of awareness this month of October. He's been busy dispelling popular myths about Down syndrome. 

Myth #1: People with Down syndrome are always so sweet!

As a four-year-old boy, Eon's favorite response to any question is, "poop." He uses it liberally and loudly. Myth dispelled. Nicely done, Eon.

Myth #2: People with Down syndrome are always so happy!

Eon has recruited his little brother, Bo, for this job. They are working to dispel this myth by holding public tantrums, as many and as loudly as possible. Last night, they managed to dispel this myth in their separate classrooms at church. Good work, boys.

Myth #3: People with Down syndrome are all so innocent!

Clearly, from the story above, Eon is conflicted about this one. So what I think he wants you to know is that people with Down syndrome named Bo are never innocent, and those named Eon are always innocent. Oh, and tall people are never guilty either, apparently. 

Sorry, buddy. That last one needs some work.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


I originally wrote this post in March for World Down Syndrome Day, but forgot to publish it. Oops! So, Happy Down Syndrome Awareness Month, instead!

The National Down Syndrome Congress has a campaign, "More Alike Than Different," basically showcasing that people with Down syndrome are just like regular folks.

When Eon was a baby, I hung my hopes on that promise. I needed to know that he was very close to "normal." I needed to tell other parents that one day he would do all the things that their kids would. I needed to look to his future with hope.

But, here's the thing: He is different.

I may alienate a whole lot of fellow advocates by saying that, but it's the truth.

He learns differently, expresses himself differently, approaches new situations differently, relates to others differently...he's just different.

Some things are harder for Eon than they are for a typical child. He struggles with fine motor tasks like unbuttoning his shirt or writing letters. He has to work at retaining words and how to speak them. 

While Eon is really healthy, some kids with Down syndrome have multiple health issues. 

But, here's the other thing: It doesn't matter.

Our love for him is not different. 

We truly don't feel differently about him than we do his siblings. We don't feel frustrated by his differences. We're not sorrowful about his challenges. We're not overwhelmed by his needs. 

Our expectations for his behavior are not different. Our delight in him is the same. Our pride in him may be slightly excessive, actually. 

The campaign is truthful and valid. People with Down syndrome are more alike than different. While Eon does have these differences, he is more like his siblings than he is different from them. 

In spite of his differences, he's just a regular kid...with some quirks. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tough Questions

I knew it was coming as soon as the words left my mouth. I opened a door and there was no closing it now. Six-year-old Zak asked me how come Bo's fingers are stuck together and I explained that they never separated when he was in his mommy's tummy. 


I saw the wheels start churning instantly, but it wasn't until we were alone in the car several hours later that he started asking questions. 

"Did Bogdan have a mom in Serbia?" 

And so I explained about birth moms and dads. 

"Wait. Why didn't they just keep him?"

I explained that they decided to leave him at the hospital when they found he had Down syndrome. 

"So they decided to be mean and leave him there just because he has Down syndrome?" asked my incredulous boy.

"No, baby. We have no idea what those people were told or believed or thought was the best thing for Bo. In Serbia, for a long time, people, including doctors, believed that kids with Down syndrome couldn't learn and would never walk or talk or play or do any of the things we know they can do. We don't know how hard it was for them to do what they did. I'm sure it was a very sad time for them, though." 

"Do you think they know we have him, now?"

"I do, actually. I know his birth mom signed the papers allowing for him to be adopted after she watched an American family adopt another child from his foster family. I think the social workers probably told her about us." 

And just like that, he was satisfied. 

"Can I get a gumball from the store?" 


Grace abounds.  

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

All Mine

"Are they all yours?"
This is, by far, the question I get the most when people learn I have eight kids. One day I will respond, "Okay, you got me. I threw in the neighbor kids just to inflate the numbers." 

What they really want to know, I think, is if I gave birth to all of them. Why, I'm not really sure. Does it make me more of a super woman if I did? Does it make me less invested as a mother if I didn't? Regardless of how we got them, of course they're all mine, but I still hesitate when I answer affirmatively, like maybe I'm being slightly dishonest or something. 

The truth is we have adopted one of them. 

We took that child for outpatient surgery this morning. As she measured, the nurse told him, "Boy, you're a tall one." I smiled as I bit back the response that almost automatically flew from my lips, "He gets it from his daddy," referring to my six foot, four inch husband with whom he shares zero DNA. 

I forgot. I find myself doing that more and more as he's becoming one of us.

The idea that he is ours was made perfectly clear a few hours later, when he had been in surgery just twenty minutes. The nurse liaison came and told us that surgery would last approximately two and half hours and now would be an excellent time to get something to eat. We were given a pager and gathered our things to head to the cafeteria for soggy bacon and powdered eggs. 

The procedures being done this morning were relatively minor but there were a lot of them and anesthesia always comes with risk. It was with great apprehension that I had handed over my crying boy to the surgical nurse and watched them walk away.

I had just put the lid on my oatmeal and was waiting for my husband to get in line to pay when all of the sounds in the busy cafeteria fell away and my full attention was captivated by the beeping, flashing, and vibrating disc in my hand. Confused, I couldn't make sense of it and just stared at it for what seemed like minutes as I held my breath. 

In a quick exhale, I grabbed my husband's arm, "Honey. Honey! It's beeping," as I thrust the offending pager at him. The fear in his eyes masked my own. "It's too soon," we communicated without words. Hearts in our throats, he asserted that he would go and slid his tray to me as I grabbed for the back pack of our son's belongings. 

My brain felt as if it were simultaneously racing through all the possibilities: Did he aspirate? On what? Could he have somehow found and consumed a lost Cheerio from the lining of the car seat without our knowing? - And slogging through molasses the tasks at hand: What am I supposed to do with this food? Pay for it? Why? I don't want to eat if my son didn't survive. I can't just leave it here. I already put raisins on this oatmeal.

Valuable time was ticking by as I shakily handed the cashier my credit card while she counted pieces of bacon. I shoved the containers in a plastic bag and raced up the stairs. Forgetting that I have no sense of direction, I charged ahead and became hopelessly turned around. Nothing made sense or looked familiar. In a full blown panic, I whirled around in a circle until I caught sight of the familiar looking couple we were seated across from earlier in the waiting room. I reoriented myself, approached the desk and was led to a small room. The doctor took one look at me and hastily said, "It's okay. He's fine. I just needed another consent signed."

As the relief washed over me, I signed that consent through tears. I barely heard what she said and when she walked back into surgery, I ate my raisin-filled oatmeal with gusto as the adrenaline drained from my system.

So, yeah, given my reaction, I think I will now respond with confidence,

"Yes, they're all mine!"

Waiting for the drama to begin.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


Twenty minutes of waiting and nothing to show for it, I realized not everyone who advertises on the internet is what they seem. I wish the parents highlighted in this article would have known it, as well. 

When I shared the gist of it with my husband, he was aghast. He has not read some of the horror stories that I have about children with severe RAD and PTSD and desperate parents who feel they have no hope. I know that disruption is sometimes necessary and adoptions do fail and the result is unrelenting heartache and guilt for all involved. But most of those children are not given away to strangers via the internet. I can empathize with the parents in this article, but I can in no way excuse their behavior. 

I feel much the same way about this issue as I do about the rise of divorce in the church. I feel like we need to head off the problem in the beginning instead of scrambling to heal the hurt at the end.  Families need to be better prepared for what they may face before they face it in adoption. I am not advocating for MORE rules and red tape in international adoption. It is already tough enough. I'm just saying that we need to get real about pre-adoption counseling. 

Recently, we received a phone call from a couple asking us which agency we used for our home study and if we'd recommend them. We did so highly. After getting some more information from the callers though,  I wish we hadn't. Our agency was wonderful. It is a Christian ministry who loves to place children in Christian homes. They work tirelessly to do so.  The home study is a difficult process and some social workers can even be adversarial, but they made it as easy as it can be. Because of those reasons, I think they are the wrong agency for this couple. 

These people have young children but plan to adopt an older teen girl that they recently met from Eastern Europe. Adopting out of birth order can be tricky, and many agencies advise against it; some will not even allow it. I have personally seen it be disastrous on two occasions, both with teen girls. In my, not at all expert opinion, teen girls are just hard to deal with even without adoption baggage. Couples who have not yet parented a teen girl may have a really, really tough time separating what is "normal" teenage angst from what could be RAD, abandonment issues, PTSD, culture shock, etc. 

They need an agency that will ask them the hard questions and prepare them for what they may likely face. Questions like:  
  • What is your plan if your little girls start telling you their big sister is hurting them behind your back?
  • What will you do if money goes missing from your purse and she denies taking it? 
  • To the husband: How do you plan to handle it if she comes on to you sexually? 
  • To the wife: How to you plan to handle it if she suggests to you that he welcomed her advances? 
  • Are you comfortable calling the police on your child if she becomes physically out of control? 
  • Are there inpatient or outpatient treatment programs in your area for teens with severe behavioral problems, and does your insurance plan cover them?
  • Do you have a trusted friend or family member who will take in your child if you need a time of separation to work out issues? 
I don't want to scare anyone out of something God has called them to do. But I think everyone should go in, eyes wide open and as prepared as possible. The Bible says that we are to be innocent as doves, but wise as serpents. I think the enemy wants to keep us in the dark about the need for adoptive families, to keep us complacent so we don't adopt, and failing that, to keep us ignorant so we fall if we do.

Abandoned children have deep, deep wounds and emotional scars that take years to heal. Love is an incredible start, but it is rarely enough. That does not mean that we fail to try. It simply means that we approach adoption as we approach life....with humble, seeking hearts, begging for wisdom and mercy, in constant connection to our Source. 

For the record,  we offered to meet this couple for coffee to discuss adoption and share some of what we've learned. They turned us down. They are confident they are prepared because they've "been thinking about this for a long time." Sadly, that does not make me feel better. 

Honestly, I don't know what kind of counseling the people in that article received prior to adoption. I'm betting they didn't have heart to hearts with those already in the trenches. I wish they had. I do hope, however, the piece serves as a warning for others going forward to be more prepared and to have support systems in place from the beginning. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Not Alone (And Not a Failure)

I'm just going to be honest because that, dear readers, is what I do best. I have been battling a loneliness and a heaviness, lately regarding Bo. We are living a life that the average person cannot understand. I cannot think of one person in my "real world" that can relate to my life; that I can call and tell about the latest poop fest or my fears about the upcoming IEP or a recent misunderstanding about Bo in our new homeschool co-op. I do share those things, but usually after I've processed them or found the funny spin in it all.  

I don't want to sugar coat adoption. In fact, I think I once promised that I wouldn't. Frankly people, it's easier to do that. There is a lot of pressure to provide the happy ending that you know folks expect to hear. It's fun to post the cute pictures of the smiling child and pretend that life is just grand in the happily-ever-after-world they helped create. 

(Let me stop right here and express that I love this child deeply and I would do everything all over again without hesitation to make him mine, even feeling what I feel and knowing what I know.)

Lately, I've struggled with feelings of failure. Bo is just not progressing like I thought he would. I foolishly thought that once we got him home and began to meet his needs, he would start to communicate, to follow directions, to decrease negative behaviors, etc. Those things are happening, but at a pace that feels ridiculously slow. I feel like we aren't doing this right!

I keep saying that he has come so far, and he long as the unit of measure is millimeters. 

Socially, he responds very much like an infant. All those smiling pictures I post on Facebook and here? Those are obtained by turning the camera backwards so he can smile at himself, like a baby does in a mirror. He also pulls hair and then smiles when KJ or Eon cry from the pain in a giant game of cause and effect just like your average eight-month-old. 

He loves shoes. He will crawl into my closet and sit for long periods of time staring at shoes, pushing them with one finger, lining them up, and occasionally trying them on. If we are in public, he will sometimes attempt to take a shoe off a stranger's foot or abscond with a random sandal at the splash park. 

He paints with poop. We must carefully dress him in onesies during the day and zip-up pajamas at night or he will go digging in his diaper and we will find it coating himself, his toys, and the walls. 

He still drinks thickened liquid from a bottle. We must put his food directly on the high chair tray or table because he will fling a plate faster than you can blink. We have to be very careful not to leave cups of liquid lying around because he will throw those, as well. 

I'm not trying to be negative Nellie, but rather to give you a picture of what our lives look like on a daily basis. He really has improved in some ways, so you can imagine what our lives looked like in the days immediately following our homecoming. 

So I was feeling discouraged and alone. And then I read Jen Hatmaker's post here in which she talks about the two years since adopting her children (neuro-typical) from Ethiopia and she is honest about the hard and the ugly and, based on how it filled my Facebook feed, it resonated with people. It did me, and her adoption and my adoption could not be more different. I cried when I read the comments and could relate to so many who shared their stories. It gave me hope and made me feel less alone. Tesney, whose adoption of Kirill I followed two years ago, responded with a post of her own which encouraged me to write this one.

And then I read magic words from Susanna. She wrote a post describing their newest son, sixteen-year-old Tommy, who was adopted from Plevin, one of the worst orphanages known to me. Tommy acts very much like an infant, as well, except he shrieks frequently, is bigger and stronger, and has foul smelling diapers. Susanna writes: 
Typically, when a child is loved and cared for, the older they grow, the more they progress. 
Tommy was so hurt for such a long time, that instead of progressing more as time went by, the opposite happened.  The older he grew, the more potential he lost.  The more unlikely it became that he would recover from the harm that was done to him. 
His progress in all areas might be infinitesimally small.
And do you know what?

There are no words to describe how okay that is with us.
The bolded line leapt off the page to me! I needed to hear that it is okay. It is okay if my son continues to act like an infant. It is okay if he never catches up to his same aged peers with Down syndrome, including his big brother. It is okay if he continues to act oddly with strange quirks and vocalizations. (It is not okay if he continues to play with poop. I have got to draw the line somewhere and that is definitely the line I choose!) 

He does not need to perform for us and he doesn't need to perform for God. I suddenly realized that all the expectations I have for Bo are not really for him, at all. They are completely selfish and rooted in pride. I needed to be "successful" with this, whatever that means. I think I also wanted redemption to look pretty. It's not pretty. Derek Loux had it right, of course. 
“My friends, adoption is redemption. It’s costly, exhausting, expensive, and outrageous. Buying back lives costs so much. When God set out to redeem us, it killed Him.” 
God doesn't need me to pretend like it's easy. It's not. I can be honest and real and hopefully, He will still get glory in the long run. The bottom line is that I could not do this without Him. It is, by far, the hardest thing I have ever done. (Remember, I have birthed seven children, some of them without medication.) I have come to the end of myself and found Him there, time and time again. My coping mechanisms are failing one by one and still He remains faithful. 

Some things have gotten easier as we've gotten to know Bo and better predict his needs. He has bonded with us well which is something few adoptive parents experience so quickly and we are incredibly grateful for that gift. It really does coat all the other stuff with a special grace and makes it so much more manageable. 

If you are another adoptive mom, I wrote this post so that you might read it and realize that you are not alone and you are not failing, either. Success is not measured in the progress of our children, but rather the obedience of our hearts. 
But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Heebie-Jeebies Buffet

They were gaping at us, mouths open, eyes wide. It wasn't even like we were fodder for conversation at their own table as there wasn't any, so fixated were they on us, or more specifically, on Eon and Bo. 

To be fair, we weren't exactly dining in an upscale or even mid-level restaurant. We were eating at a Walmart buffet, if Walmart had a buffet. Same clientele...if it were Walmart at midnight...on a weekend. But, church had just ended on Saturday evening and it was late. The kids were hungry and this place was cheap (which is imperative for a family of ten) and all-you-can-eat. 

We sat ourselves in the back room for large groups, divided up which big kids and grown ups would take which small kids and set off to fill plates. I stayed behind with Bo, who was already buckled in his high chair, and Eon, whose big kid made a bathroom run. That's when I noticed them. 

Eon being Eon was vocalizing a bit loudly his displeasure at having to wait. I assured him that Ellie would be back soon and began asking him what foods he planned to select. The older lady at the next table started watching him and our interaction. She was there with what may have been her husband and some adult children and their spouses. Sensing her stares, I felt like I was "on" and became even more animated as I interacted with the boys. 

Eon's big kid returned and took him to get food and the woman shifted her attention to Bo. When Shawn returned to the table, I left to get food and by the time I came back, the starers had grown by two and were eerily silent while the rest of their table ate and talked. I fed Bo while chatting with Eon and Ellie who were sitting near me wondering what in the world I was going to say if those people actually said something rude to me. 

My first thought was wondering how I was going to hold Shawn back so I could have a go at them first. I'm always so Christ-like when my mama bear instinct strikes. 

Before I had even gotten to Bo's dessert, their entire table was completely silent and blatantly gaping at our precious boys. 

I have no idea why. 

The boys weren't making a mess or being loud. I was feeding Bo, so he wasn't feeding himself with his hands which he does at home. Eon was using his utensils properly. It was just bizarre!

When I see people notice us, I always like to think the best. I usually imagine that they're wondering if the boys are twins or trying to figure out if they both have Down syndrome. I sometimes wonder if they have a relative with special needs. I glanced at them a few times to try and gauge the situation. They weren't openly curious. They weren't openly disgusted or hostile, either. They were just openly...staring with completely blank expressions. Heebie-jeebies creepy.

Shawn, at the far end of our table texted me:
If they keep staring at Eon and Bo, I'm going to beat them with a chicken leg.
Clearly, I'm not the only one whose instincts stray far from cheek turning when it comes to our kids. 

After a bit, they got up and left. We spent some time talking about it as a family. It's funny how you can come up with so many clever things to say after the fact. Everyone has their own idea of what they should have said. I wish I would have looked them straight on and, with a syrupy southern accent and a big smile said:
Would y'all mind if I take your picture? I have this blog, see, where I chronicle our lives with these beautiful boys and I have never had anyone take such and interest in them while they eat! I think it would make for fascinating reading on the blog if I showcased you with your picture! I shore hope you don't mind. You wouldn't now, would you? Of course not! Scrunch in there close now. That's right. Smile! 
Sadly, I did not do that, so you will have to use your imagination. I will tell you that, before the staring started, one of the sons stood to get more food and scratched his belly for a good long while and gave us an extended view of his poorly toned, excessively hairy abdominal region. (My eyes! My EYES!!!)

Maybe that will help you frame the situation. Heebie-Jeebies creepy, I'm telling you.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

First Birthday Home

It has been our amazing privilege to celebrate the life of Bogdan Nikolai Lakes, today! Our little guy turned four-years-old and celebrated his first birthday with us, his forever family. 
Our Serb came from a chain-smoking home. Wonder if that crayon is filtered? :)

 I struggled with a migraine off and on all day and late this morning I was laying on my bed when he sought me out to snuggle with me. We made faces for the camera.

And then he snuggled in and dozed off in my arms, which was a gift to me. 

During his fifteen-minute nap, I found myself praying for his birth mama, who was surely thinking of him on this day. It's complicated, my emotion for this woman who gave him life and then gave him up, but I hope she knows that he is well-loved and that we are grateful he is ours. 

This afternoon, it was off to a favorite park for cake and ice cream, balloons, and a rousing family game of hide and seek. Clearly the cake was the biggest hit with the birthday boy.
Not a fan of the party hat idea, so his brother, Zak, had two.

"I don't need no stinkin' spoon!"

 I cannot believe how very much we adore this kid! He fits so well in this family. Recently, he learned how to work the crowd at the dinner table and he loves all the attention!


Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Tattoo

There was a time when I was blissfully unaware of the misery that encompasses the life of a child who has no one. I was completely ignorant of the staggering statistics...both of the sheer numbers relating to orphans and those regarding their likely futures. I didn't even know enough to find out. Orphans and their plight just weren't on my radar. 

Now, however, they fill my prayers and my thoughts. I have a passion to make others aware in hopes of bringing change. I want to see less orphans in the world. I want to see more adoptive families, more support for families in extreme poverty that often create orphans, more funding for better orphanages, more acceptance for children with special needs, more child sponsors...just more. 

For about a year, I've wanted something tangible that visibly identifies my passion. I want to invite discussion, to open the door to share my heart. I wanted something to draw those of like minds to myself when I'm going about my daily life.

So I did what any forty-something-year-old mother of eight would do in this situation and got a tattoo. 

Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles, and refuse to let the world corrupt us. James 1:27 (NLT)
My one and only sister was good-naturedly horrified at my decision. This is the texting exchange we had before I had it done: 
Me: Not getting a tramp stamp, btw. Getting James 1:27 along the side of my wrist. ;)
Tonya: That's a long verse. What version?
Me: Just the reference, silly! Hahahaha!
Tonya: Oh! LOL!

Still makes me chuckle. 

I, like many other Christians, wasted a lot of years worrying about my morality and focusing on my behavior, trying so hard to look religious without actually practicing true religion. This is a reminder to me of what really matters, to focus my energy toward loving the unloved. 

I was admonished by several people that, "It's permanent," but actually, it's not. This life is not forever. We are given just a short time on this earth to accomplish that for which we were put here. I want to live my life with eternity on my mind. I want the reminder on my wrist that this is not all there is. One day, this body will die and my Bible tells me that I will be given a new one. This tattoo will die with the old one, but that which is written on my heart will not.

Of course, I could follow my friend, Bruce's advice and ensure that the tattoo lives on, as well. 

Ew. Maybe not. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013


We're leaving our church home of fourteen years for one that has a special needs ministry. It is not the church's fault. They have made it clear that they are happy to start a Buddy Program but we would be the test case. Frankly, we have too much going on to tackle that right now and I was finding that, as there wasn't a place for Bogdan, I was just staying home with him and isolating myself more than I already was. 

I'm feeling a bit nostalgic because of it. 

Honestly, everything changed when Eon was born. That tiny bit of extra chromosome altered the course of our lives. 

I am partly to blame. I jumped into the world of special needs with both feet, attempting to drag my friends with me. I waxed eloquent about how "normal" our lives were with Down syndrome, daring anyone to challenge me. I developed a whole new vocabulary and insisted on people first language. 

I made it all about me. 

I became so defensive, friends were uncomfortable even asking me questions and, eventually, felt unqualified to speak into my life at all. The gap between my reality and theirs widened until there was very little common ground left. I regret that aspect of this journey.

But there has been so much good, as well.

I struggled with my faith that first year. Ideas that had been nebulous speculation before, now became concrete reality. My faith deepened. I deepened as I wrestled and grappled with belief. My paradigm shifted and I released my expectations of perfection for myself and my family.

God was gracious to us. Because of it, I have more grace for others and my circle widened to include those of different faiths, or of no faith. He's teaching me, "Imago Dei"...Image of God. All people, regardless of ability, race, belief, intelligence, bank account, manners....all people are created in His image. If I look closely and love deeply, I can see Him reflected there.

My sense of justice was ignited with the birth of Eon. Discrimination of those with disabilities is not just on my radar; I see it rampant everywhere throughout the world, but no more than against the unborn with known special needs in this country. The current hunt to discover and eliminate these unborn babies smacks of eugenics. We should recoil in horror at what's being done to them instead of hiding behind "choice." 

In other countries, particularly in Eastern Europe, those that make it past the womb are in for a horror of their own. Children abandoned at birth, live in their own filth in cribs they will never leave. One percent of orphans will escape through adoption. One percent of 147 million. 

Our Bo was one of the one percent. Now that we have him and know him and love him, I am awestruck at how simple it was to meld him into our family. Don't get me wrong, just like parenting in general, adoption was ten times harder than I expected, but it was one hundred times more wonderful, too. Without Eon, we wouldn't have Bo.

Eon, himself, is hilarious. We laugh so much because of his antics! He is full of personality and engages life more fully than anyone I've ever seen. He is confident and friendly, sneaky and brazen. He makes me smile.

Life before Eon was good. While I didn't know it at the time, it was easy and comfortable. But life with Eon is amazing! It is challenging and fulfilling, crazy and deep, and decidedly not comfortable or easy.

But it is better!