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.


Molly said...

Thank you so much for sharing your heart. I now know how to pray for you all. I think of you all often. Love and Prayers. Molly Norwood

Jenn said...

Hugs to you, sweet friend!! Praying for you and your family! I know just how to pray. ;)

The Reeds said...

As always thanks so much for your raw honesty and for the braveness to share your experience. It is always a beautiful thing- honesty and truth. It is a blessing to so many.
Thank you. I will be praying for you.

I was just listening to the song "Worn" and it's so true, even with our difficult journeys, in the end we just want to see redemption win. Praise the Lord again and again that we already know it will.

It wins. It wins. It wins.

Erin said...

I'm so glad you posted this. I can relate to your emotions 100%. We brought our son home 6 months ago. He's only two but it's been the hardest 6 months of my life... Because of me and how I've reacted to having him home. Our family dynamic has been turned upside down and I've blamed him for that, even though he's still a baby. We are finally making some progress and that feels good. I do look back over the last six months and regret my anger, impatience and yelling. But what's done is done as I thank Jesus that every day is new. I'm so grateful that you are open and honest and willing to share this with us out here. I needed to hear it!

Ashley said...

Cindy, thank you so very much for your raw honesty! I have wondered what to anticipate when our two boys come home from Haiti, and it helps me lower my expectations, in a very good way since I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist. I'm so thankful for people like you, trailblazing the way and sharing your journey. I found this read to be so encouraging. Hoping and believing for great things to come in your family! :)

Amy Rogers said...

Cindy - I don't know you, but I saw the link to this post through a friend's facebook page. We live in Uganda and have adopted older children out of order, too. THANK YOU for sharing so honestly! Thank you. I pray that God will continue to unify your family for His glory!

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