Sunday, March 24, 2013

Not Broken Anymore

Libby was adopted at 10 months of age from China. She was our first baby. The bonding was easy. We were attached to her in seconds. She was attached to us within days.  But attachment can be rooted in some troublesome soil for the adopted child. Of course, most of the attachment is rooted in the basic need/desire to be loved. But sometimes, attachment is rooted in something even more tenacious than the instinctual need to be loved....the fear of rejection. This is Libby's story, only its just recently become so clear.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Sunny's arrival home brought out a commander/guard-type side to Libby's personality. She was stiff with Sunny. She felt that her life was ruined. She was angry and her tone and body language proved it.  I knew to expect a dose of this from her as her "birth" order was being disrupted, but I could never have imagined how fierce Libby's response would be. Only recently was I able to clearly see what was going on in her heart. I had an idea, of course, but I never wanted to put words in her mouth or assume I could understand all the complexities of the situation within her mind/heart. All I knew to do was pray. That, I did.

Libby has always struggled with Billy showing me affection. When she was 3 and 4 years of age she would have wild meltdowns if Billy hugged or kissed me. But over time, this seemed to dwindle a bit. She'd laugh it off, though she was still clearly unhappy with it. Fast forward to about a month ago. Libby was in our room and Billy mentioned something about kissing me. Libby leaped onto the bed and started pounding Billy with her fists. She was sent upstairs to calm down. After a while I went to check on her. She began crying, saying, "I need to tell you something, but I don't want to." Naturally, I became concerned but tried to keep calm. I convinced her she could share anything. She asked me to come in the closet with her to talk about it. Sitting in the playroom closet she shared with me that she has never been comfortable seeing anyone give affection. She began to cry the deepest cry, a cry that could only come from a place where there are no words. I asked her, "What do you think about when you see people give hugs and kisses?" She began sobbing saying, "I don't know. I don't know." And right then, for the first time I knew it was time to give her the words.

I shared with her that her first 10 months in China were very lonely ones. I said, "You can't picture it or remember it, but your mind, body and soul know it well. You were not held very much. You just laid in a crib with no touch, no warmth, no eye contact. It must have felt very lonely." Her eyes were staring into mine with absolute agreement.  I went on, "I think this is why you have a hard time seeing others give affection. You have a hard time receiving it and giving it, so it hurts your heart when others can give hugs and kisses so easily." She completely understood. I continued, "You're being uncomfortable with affection is not a secret. Satan has made you think that no one knows how you feel, but the truth is, Mommy and Daddy have always seen that it is hard for you. For example, when I kiss Gracie she puckers up her lips for a kiss, but you stiffen up and turn your head for a kiss on the cheek. Now, I know you love me so this has never hurt my heart, but I've always known that receiving my love was hard for you. But now that you know why you have this hurt inside, let me tell you some good news. You couldn't have known it when you were a baby, but Jesus was with you during those first 10 months. He calls himself the Father to the fatherless. He was right there watching over you. Also, he assigned a guardian angel to you. So you had two people with you during that lonely time and they were making sure we found our way to you. You were never really alone. But Satan tried to make you think you were." She was tracking with me and her crying had calmed. I prayed over her. I reminded her that I will keep praying that this good news brings her the healing she has always wanted. Then I let her have some time to herself as I must get dinner started.

About twenty minutes later Libby came down the stairs holding a drawing. She proudly showed me her work. It was a picture of a heart with Billy and me holding hands inside the heart. Below the heart at the bottom of the page Libby wrote, "Not broken anymore".  This profound response brought me to tears.

That night as I made my rounds of goodnights, I went to kiss Libby on her cheek. She said, "No, mom. Right here." And she puckered up those sweet lips for her goodnight kiss.

In following days, the Lord continued to give Libby words for what she has been feeling deep down. One day she shared with me, "When I make mistakes I hear in my head, 'I'm stupid, I'm dumb!'" Her need to be perfect, also rooted in the ugly soil of fear of rejection, was finally being fought against by way of confession. The lies were coming to light. I was able to share with her the beauty of our weaknesses; how our weakest places are where God gets to show off His strength. I shared of the beauty of God's grace and how Jesus sees her as perfect because when she received him as her Savior her sins and imperfections were thrown as far away as the east is from the west.

A few days later, she mentioned that when she does something wrong she thinks in her mind, "I don't belong here." [Side note: May I just kick Satan in the ass, now? REALLY!] Oh the joy of explaining the power of adoption - how its stronger than blood. She is chosen. Not once. THREE TIMES. Her biological mother CHOSE to give her life against all ridicule, self-sacrifice, and shame. We chose her from a world away. And Jesus has chosen her - FOREVER to be His! How many people get to say that? I reassured her of our unfailing love for her; that she was our first baby and our hearts are for her all our days.

And somewhere in that same time frame I realized, all the anger Libby had towards Sunny was not because Sunny was older. It was because on that first night home with Sunny, Sunny grabbed Gracie's hand and immediately connected with her and Libby feared she was being rejected by Sunny AND Gracie. Her world really was turned upside down that night. That dear, poor, child. Oh how I hate the lies of the enemy!!! BUT! BUT!! BUT!!!!

GOD REDEEMS!!!!!!!!!!!

He never forsakes his beloved. He never stops pursuing. He never stops making His love known. And He NEVER NEVER stops restoring the broken. And He had a perfect plan for my Liberty Song......FREEDOM! Freedom from ever believing the lies of rejection and fear again.

Sing a song of freedom
Shout out, "I belong!"
Sing loud through the darkness
Til light and healing come
Sing my freedom child
Until there's no more fright
For love has won your battle
You can let go the fight.

Sunny's arrival felt like the end for Libby. But God was just getting started. With Sunny's arrival came new freedom. It took pressing Libby on all sides for the words of pain to pour into the light. Six and a half years after been placed in our arms forever, we finally see her attachment rooting itself completely in the pure desire to be loved. Fear began losing its grip as Libby penned, "Not broken anymore." Hallelujah!

Since those first months, I've seen Libby, my all-tom-boy-hot-wheels-playing-girl, intentionally learn how to braid Barbie doll hair so she can play with her sisters in a way they like to play. I've seen her defend Sunny when I was being too hard on her. I've seen her sing lullabies to Sunny when Sunny was crying over being disciplined. I've seen Libby giggle a thousand giggles in one afternoon at play with Sunny. I've seen them become close friends. Teammates. Both of them considerate of Gracie as well. Today I found all three of my girls cleaning my entire kitchen together. Libby said, "We have one rule mom: Never give up and always stick together." Later in the evening, the three of them ate dinner together. Sitting around the table they made up "once upon a time" stories and laughed so hard I thought they might cry. It was my heaven hint for today. Eternity's reminder: Because of these adoptions my girls will know Jesus and all three of them will sit at the table of Jesus, sharing "once upon a time" stories and they will be laughing. Three little ladies from three different countries with no ill-will between them. Just love and Jesus. Yes, God Redeems!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Breaking the Silence

Note: Before you begin reading, know that this post is a short recap of our first months with Sunny home. It does not begin to tell of all the little details of our first months together. It doesn't cover the happy or exciting moments of those months. The reason is, what I'm about to explain was present in our hearts even in those happy, exciting moments. What I express in this post is a confession of just how complex and how hard the transition has been. I will certainly move on to the details of the good days and wonderful growing experiences we've all had since Sunny's arrival, but I feel strongly the following is how I must begin journaling our experience.  Please extend your grace to me in the midst of this honest account. Thank you. Lastly, Libby is a very private person. I struggled with whether to include her story in this post. I don't know how she will feel about my sharing this when she is older. But I know so many families adopting older children that never have adoption communities around them to know they are not alone. I feel this story will give those families hope as they see the redemption and restoration displayed in this post and those to follow. So here goes...

I've been silent. Sunny's been home nearly 5 months and I've shared nothing. When asked whether I would blog about our first weeks as a complete family I sincerely responded, "Love keeps no record of wrongs and our first weeks would just be a long record of wrongs, so no." And that is true. But most of the wrongs were my own and those wrongs are best made right by confession.

Here's the thing about having adopted an older child... out of birth order... from another country...with no education...and no English -  it put my own depravity on display in rather repugnant ways.  And the whole family knew it. Who stunk? Mommy.

Over the almost-three years of this adoption journey I visited Sunny in Haiti a total of 7 times. I felt all the love for her that I felt for my two daughters at home. I never once thought my feelings would betray me upon her arrival home. I knew all along she would be older than Libby and would challenge the birth order in our family, but I never considered how that would impact me. I figured Sunny would struggle with food issues, that she would need a grace-curve in learning how to follow instructions or in learning to be part of a family. I knew it wouldn't be easy, BUT I never thought I would be the problem.

On Oct 17, Sunny ran all aglow from the plane into the sea-sized welcoming party. She leapt into her daddy's arms. Hugged her sisters. And then it happened. While everyone celebrated and hugged and cheered... in slow motion I could see out of the corner of my eye - Sunny and Gracie immediately connected, held hands and Libby saw it. All the fear of rejection came on like a bang in Libby's heart and the war was on. The one thing I had been secretly concerned about was happening. The difficulty of now having three children, magnified by changing of birth order and helped along by similarities in skin color (or the lack of them) was blowing up my family from second one. It wasn't anyone's fault. But there it was, a war inside each of our hearts after an exhausting three years of battles just to get Sunny here. 

In the weeks that followed I had to watch every move/exchange between Libby and Sunny. Libby seemed so angry, so threatened. She walked around like a military commander - barking out orders, guarding everything she owned, blocking Sunny from anything Libby deemed off-limits to her. It was the most painful thing to watch. I ached for Libby. If it had not been for God's clear confirmations that we were to adopt Sunny I would have easily thought we made a big mistake. Even knowing we heard the Lord right - I wondered if this was a game changer in an ugly way for the rest of our years as a family. I ached for Sunny who had to be wondering what was up with Libby. Sunny had done nothing to make Libby feel threatened. She was docile, frightened, over-stimulated, confused, very quiet. Sunny was paralyzed with fear of our dog for the first few weeks. At night her eyes darted back and forth with fear of sleeping alone in her bed. And yet, I couldn't bring myself to put her in bed with me because I felt that would break Libby into a million pieces. Both girls were in the most vulnerable season of their lives and to help one felt like I was abandoning the other. And of course, it was easier to worry less over the child I was not yet bonded to. 

I had a complex stack of emotions towards Sunny. She kept asking about Haiti - when could she go back, when could she talk to Stephania (a beautiful teenager in the orphanage who cared for Sunny). I was jealous of Stephania - that's ridiculous, I know. But Sunny longed for her and just tolerated me. Sunny did want my attention and wanted me to hold her, but only because she couldn't have Stephania. I was second best...or maybe 3rd or 4th...I might as well just be another nanny. But as much as I wanted her to look at me with eyes of  unhindered adoration, I also felt guarded towards her for fear that any affection given her would stir up more conflict in Libby. Then there were silly things that just got under my skin. Sunny would examine everything I cooked in the kitchen and give me her approval or disdain for it. She made her decision to like or dislike the food by either smelling it or licking it. She would not put new foods in her mouth unless she liked the smell or the texture. It irritated me that she could go from practically starving to picky in a matter of days. She also laughed when she should be concerned about getting in trouble. I know now it was a nervous laugh but at the time I thought she was just laughing at me when I was trying to teach or discipline. The language barrier was certainly not making the process any easier.

Over time, the extreme commander-guard role Libby was playing diminished, but the fears and wounds were still there. They came up from time to time in screams of hatred, tears of deep fear. Libby and I had many deep conversations. It was difficult in an awful and beautiful way. It was obedience for both Libby and me - at that point - to just be kind to Sunny and accept her presence in our home.

That sounds awful, doesn't it? But the fact is this: IT IS MUCH EASIER TO LOVE PEOPLE OUTSIDE OF YOUR HOME. ONCE THEY LIVE WITH YOU IT GETS TOUGH! BUT - BUT!!! Maybe taking people into our home and fully wrapping our lives around them is what Jesus was talking about when he told us to LOVE!

Libby and I talked about how when Jesus says to "love your neighbor as yourself" or "love the least of these" he was talking about exactly what we were called to do with Sunny - to love her as ourselves. The depth of such Scriptures comes to life when you realize how hard this command is to carry out. Oh, it was easy to love from a distance. To send love to her by cards, to go be in her environment for a few days at a time. But to bring the lost and least into your home forever - well, that is an act of obedience that costs something more than a plane ticket. There are a host of reasons why I felt the way I did towards Sunny in those first months. Its complex. We lost something in the gaining of Sunny. We lost a familiar routine. We lost the amount of time we had with each child. We lost the ease of life we had found over the years together. I lost joy. I was completely, entirely overwhelmed...depleted. I was keenly aware of all my heart issues toward Sunny but could not see a way out for over three months. That's a long time to carry such complex burdens. But bottom line - it was sin. It was my selfishness come to the surface -  a stinky pile of rubbish far worse than the trash heaps on the side of the roads in Port au Prince, Haiti. Sunny didn't ask to live here. She didn't decide one day to pop by and ask to live with us. We brought her here. And yet, here I was - mad at her that my family wasn't what it used to be. This attitude had to stop for me and for Libby. We decided we would each help one another on our hard days. And that's what we did.

As time went by I would find myself raising my voice at Sunny over one issue or another. Sunny was struggling with lying, laziness and whole host of stimulation issues that comes from being an orphan for nearly 9 years. And sometimes those issues got the best of me. But I would hear Libby speak up and remind me to stay calm, remind me that we were helping each other to show love to Sunny. On other days I held Libby as she shared with me in private her frustrations and we prayed together and hugged and kept pressing on. 

For Gracie, everything was a-ok. She had a new big sister who looked like her and liked to play with the same toys. And truly, though Sunny is 9 she plays on a 4 year old level. So they were a perfect match. For Billy, there were struggles with patience and bonding, but 1. he got to leave for work every day and got a break and 2. Sunny never doubted that her daddy hung the moon. She adored him from the start.

Sunny's emotions (or lack of them, I should say) are not healthy. But everyone who sees her playing and giggling and remaining even keel just thinks - "oh, she is adjusting so well!" But the truth was and still is - she is so out of touch with the reality of her life-story that she can't even come close to comprehending or expressing the things she has lost in her moving here. The only emotion she knows how to express is excitement - and she's WAY out of control when she's excited. When she should be angry she does nothing. She just sits there and stares into space. When she should be sad she roughly wipes her tears and straightens up her posture or disappears for awhile.  All these things piled up on top of the previous bonding issues mentioned. 

Of course, in each day there were happy moments. That's when the camera came out in hopes of catching a moment before it passed to remember -yes, there is good in this. 

Perhaps the most valuable jewel collected along this transition was the reminder that the kind of intense praying I did for Sunny's arrival were still needed - but for our hearts to arrive at a place of connection with Sunny's.

The new year, I thought, would be a chance to start over, try harder, enjoy Sunny - finally. But we all got the flu and I also had a chest injury from a gym class and the year was off to a discouraging start. Finally, toward the end of February I felt the dark clouds start to clear away. I can't tell you what happened, specifically. Maybe we all just needed time, but I'm sure prayers were being answered. My heart was leaving anger and grief behind and I was feeling less exhaustion. I was finding a new rhythm - our new normal. I found myself staying more calm with Sunny, giving her more eye contact. And she was always - even in the beginning - very gracious to receive my love, even on the tough days. Honestly, the survival skills she learned in her first 9 years prepared her WAY more for this transition than my ease of life prepared me for her arrival. And Libby...well...that's my next post. God has done amazing things in her...A-MAZ-ING!!

But before I close I need to say this....Sunny is worth every dark day, every discouraging voice, every selfishness exposed. There was never a doubt that she was our Sunny-girl. And what God is doing in our family through Sunny's adoption - though extremely difficult at times - is worth everything we lost in the process. And what we lost is NOTHING compared to what Sunny lost in her first 9 years of life. With eternity set in our hearts, we find that our future in heaven justifies all the pain that adoption involves from beginning to end. And for now, we are gaining healthy perspective and learning to love by way of obedience rather than by way of feelings. And in so doing, the feelings of love have arrived. 

The silence of our hearts is broken. Love in its fullest has dawned.

Our first morning in the US. This was at a hotel in the Miami airport.  We were about to be on our way home, finally! Her demeanor was confusing. She was clearly excited but also terrified. She was very challenging. I thought that out of fear of all the changes she would cling to me, but instead she would walk away and disobey things she clearly knew I asked her not to do. I even lost her in the Miami airport. In hindsight I realize she had NO IDEA the world was such a big place. She had no concept that she could get lost forever. She had no clue that I knew more than her. She was a baby bird fresh out of the egg who thought she could fly.
She was a mess on the plane. Everything was so new to her that her excitement (over-stimulation) was out of control. Everyone expressed their concern or pity for me along the way. I tried to stay cool, calm  and collected but I was already realizing how hard life would be with her while she transitioned into the "new world". It was an overwhelming realization.

When we walked through the jetway we could see the crowd of people waiting to welcome Sunny home. Sunny got so excited she wanted to run! This was our first glimpse of the welcoming party once inside the Amarillo airport.

And she ran to welcome the attention!

The moment of connection. Though this is when the pain of the transition occurred for Libby, it was very sweet to see these two girls finally meet. Gracie was the only family member who had not made a trip to meet Sunny.
The precious friends who came to celebrate!

Glued to one another:)

The whole welcoming-gang

Libby- trying to put on a good face.

Our first complete family photo

Grammy had come to help Billy with girls while I was away so she got to welcome Sunny home too! Sunny adored her.

Sunny's first night. She was terrified. She didn't realize she would sleep in her own bed alone. Of course, the other 2 girls were right beside her, but she had in her mind she would be sleeping with me like she did in Haiti. It was the saddest thing to see her so overwhelmed and scared.

The girls in their room on Sunny's first full day home. Her body has changed so much since this picture was taken. She has filled out and grown a couple of inches. And now I know how to care for her hair better too:)

Grammy and 3 of her grand-babies.

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