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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Along the Winding Valley

John and I kid around a lot about the oldest of our three new children. We should probably stop, but in the beginning, we joked around as a form of therapy for ourselves. "Big C" as I call him in this blog, is a difficult child. Oh, he is a beautiful little boy. All three of our little angels are beautiful. "Little C" has a grin that will have the girls swooning one day. And our little girl has golden hair and little gold flecks in her eyelashes. And Big C is just adorable too. He has those big brown eyes and mischievous grin. He's handsome, and smart and coordinated for a five year old. But he is far from the easiest child I have ever parented.
The kidding around between me and my husband is normally something like this:
Me: "I'm going to the store to get milk, eggs, etc. Do you want me to take one of the little ones with me?
John: It doesn't matter, I can watch them all - or if you want to, you can take Big C . . ."
(Insert sarcastic laughter)
Occasionally, we have a little disagreement over who will handle his antics. It goes like this:
Me: It's your turn, dude. I've had enough of the master of disaster.
John: Seriously? I changed two exploding diapers just now on the other two.
Although it doesn't always go like this, you get the picture. It's not easy. We knew this whole "arrangement" would not be easy. But all the classes we took, books we read, stories we heard, and conversations we had- nothing could have prepared us for these specific children and their needs, experiences, and trauma.
And being that Big C is the oldest, he remembers the most. He holds onto the most.
After he went to therapy this past week, he started recalling stories of his parents, who he referred to by their first names. He knew the names of the towns he lived in, who he lived with, and where Little C lived, and all the other details. He knew unbelievable details. It was so sad.
And as frustrating as this child can be, sometimes I am overwhelmed with grief for what he has lost and what life has done to him. He has a hard time with trust. The first time his caseworker came to visit us, he was terrified that she was going to take him to live somewhere else. The first time I took him to daycare, he clung to me, afraid I would leave him. And at therapy, before he will go in the room and play in the sand or with the other toys, he turns and asks: "Will you be right outside the door the whole time?"
I don't know what heavy burdens he has carried but I know he has had a hard time just being a child. He spent the first five or six weeks in our home telling us how to change the baby's diaper, how to discipline his brother, how to cut the food for them, how to hold the baby, and all manner of things most five year olds never bother to be concerned about.
Recently I decided to look up the children's names and read about their meanings. I have this big fascination with names and what they mean. If I had ever been able to have my own babies, it would have been a big process to choose their names. As it is, I put great time and thought into naming my two babies in Heaven - Jacob and Abigail. So, not being able to choose your children's names is hard, but I wanted to know their names all the same.
I flipped through a book of baby names and read the meanings. Everything was pretty straightforward, nothing spectacular. But I did pause when I got to the meaning of Big C's name.
It means "winding valley."
Another translation claims that his name means "bent or crooked."
Could there be a better name for this child?
It breaks my heart, but his name fits him well. We watch him struggle, make unwise choices, use profanity (at five years old!) and learn the hard way. We watch him battle moment by moment with simple rules and structure that is designed to guide and protect him. He has been in this winding valley all of his life. He has struggled on path that is bent and crooked. His life has been less than ideal.
So it was that today I did go to the grocery store to pick up milk, juice, bread, etc. You know, the basics. And I was tempted to just take the baby. She is so easy and sweet and people stop by the cart to gush: "Oh! She looks just like you!" And I smile and feel so happy. Or I could have taken my handsome Little C, who sits happily in the cart and is just glad to be there. But when Big C heard I was going to the store, he slipped into the narrow space between my body and the kitchen counter and reached for my hands. "Can I go with you Mommy?"
Flashback of the last two times he accompanied me to the grocery store: Screaming, kicking, clawing me, slamming the grocery cart into my heels (ouch!) grabbing at helium balloons and knocking down a display of Little Debbie cakes . . .
John looked hopeful . . . the baby was content . . . Little C was about to take a nap.
"Okay, buddy. You can come with me."
And the little Winding Valley happily trotted out the door with me.
In the parking lot, I laid down the ground rules. You may have one (1) treat, if and only if you stay with me, do not ask for anything, and do not attempt to push the grocery cart. Do not argue with me, do not talk to strangers, and do not run in the grocery store.
He agreed to my rules.
We shopped for about thirty very uneventful minutes. We spent even longer with the cashier due to an issue with my kool-aid coupon. As we checked out, I told Big C he could choose his one (1) treat. He chose a cheese danish, of all things.
While I paid, the charming child walked over to some 25 cent-candy machines but HE DID NOT ASK FOR A SINGLE THING.
We walked to the car, loaded the groceries into the back and he climbed into his booster car-seat. I buckled him in and he asked if he could eat the danish in the car. I said yes and got into my seat, started the AC and began backing out of the parking space. While I was turned around looking out the back windshield, his eyes locked with mine. Between bites of danish, he smiled and said: "Thank you, mommy."
As we pulled out of the parking lot, I caught a glimpse of him in the rear view mirror. I was overcome at the sight of him: sweet, innocent, pure, lovable, precious, full of life, and full of energy. He looked so safe and so "at home."
"I love you, buddy." I said.
And I meant it.
I do love him.
We didn't sign up for easy street. We signed up for the winding valley. And I am happy to be moving forward, one step at a time.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Rollin' with the Changes

We knew this was coming but it still hit us out of the blue. John went to work on Friday with his customary brown-bag lunch and Steelers mug of coffee and was soon greeted by his supervisor- the district manager- coming to deliver some news. I'm not going to call this "bad news," in fact, I refuse to call it anything other than "news" because we just don't know what God has in store for us next. John has been working for Wolf as a manager for over twelve years. He has been with Wolf far longer than he's been with me, and he has done well there. But sadly, the economy has hurt this business and his store, along with many others, is closed. Originally, he was told that there would be about 3-6 weeks until the store was officially "closed." That changed yesterday when John was told to put a sign on the door and start boxing up the merchandise. Done. Over. Adios. The End. John called his "guys" - the faithful work associates who have kept him company for years, and passed along the "news." And here we go again.

In October, I left a job of fourteen years. A comfortable, easy, pleasant job that I had done for so long I could do it with my eyes closed and both hands tied behind my back. I left because God said "it's time to go, I'm done with you here," and he lead me to work right here in my community with a struggling non-profit that truthfully couldn't afford to hire me. But God opened that door, and I am overwhelmingly grateful because not five months later we received the wonderful news that our family was about to grow in a very special way. Bringing C, C and E into our home has changed our life dramatically. In fact, it was such a massive change for us that John took 6 weeks of paid FMLA time to stay home with me and help get the children into a routine with our family and community. We went from being a family of 6 to a family of 9 and I have loved every minute of it (except for the uncertainty about the future . . . but let's not go into that right now.) I am tempted to be a little nervous right now, but actually I'm kind of excited. I'm excited to see what God has in store for us. John has been faithful to a job that hasn't always been easy. He has been a hard-working and faithful provider for our family, and I believe God will honor that faithfulness. John has sacrificed his Saturdays and some Sundays for years, and many holidays. He has worked long hours, put up with ornery customers, and spent far too much time wearing a black polo and khakis. And now God has something else for him- and for us.

My mother in law called tonight to ask how John was doing. He is her baby, after all. I should also interject that I adore my mother in law. She is adorable, funny, clever, creative, warm, and witty. She is someone I admire and enjoy. Her humor is always laced with sarcasm (like me), and she is thoughtful like no one I have ever known. She never forgets a birthday, she never lets a holiday pass without sending a card to each of the children. And she faithfully calls us every Sunday just to check on things. Tonight's phone call was focused on John, and of course, the children. And I felt really encouraged after talking to her. She believes like I do, that something great is just around the corner. 

Our life seems to be full of changes. Yes I know, everyone feels that way. But when I think about the changes that have happened in this house over the past year, I can honestly say that these changes have been for our good. Isn't that what scripture promises us? That in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 Sometimes I am still blown away that God chose me and called me according to his purpose. But I am grateful for this perspective. I am grateful that as we roll through life and face these changes, we can know that God still holds us in His hand. Nothing takes Him by surprise.

Now if all of you will just keep reminding me of this!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Emotionally Crippled Mommy

I had one of those weekends where all I could think about was "what if?" What if we lose them, what if we have them for another year and THEN we lose them? What if we have them forever and they grow up to resent us and turn into delinquents?
I can't say what causes me to have these fears and feelings of gloom. I can say, being brutally honest, that sometimes facebook is really hard for me. It seems like page after page of newborn babies, pregnancy posts, happy pictures from the delivery room. And in spite of these beautiful children that live in my home, and my wonderful compassionate husband, I still struggle with bitterness, sadness, longing, and loneliness. Yes, loneliness. Infertility makes you feel like you are alone in a sea of happy fertile people who were blessed to be able to plan their families, and see the natural fruit of their wombs. Infertility makes you feel left out. It's like being the only kid not picked for a team in kickball, or not being asked to a school dance when all your friends are going.
This weekend I was seriously bummed out. Just watching the kids play made me sad. I couldn't enjoy them because all I could think about was how broken and imperfect this world is - and how broken and imperfect I am. I thought about their circumstances, and how they came to us- and I thought about what I used to imagine as my future. You know- a good old, pity party.
And at the height of my brokenness and self-loathing, the boys asked for a bedtime story. I reached into the big basket and pulled out three board books. "Pick one," I offered, already too distracted by my pitiful nonsense to pay much attention to the titles. John noticed one of the three books was Max Lucado's book, The Crippled Lamb. He muttered something about that sounding like a really depressing children's book. I didn't remember the whole story. I knew it was something about a lamb that was there during the nativity. In a fleeting moment, I thought about putting that one back. It might be easier to stick with Little Monster or the Berenstein Bears than deal with the complicated theology of barnyard animals as spiritual beings.
The boys followed me into the bedroom and naturally they picked "the lamb one." I opened the book and started to read, telling myself not to get emotionally dragged into the story. Max Lucado is great - but sometimes a little heavy for a Sunday night. Big C was sitting on my lap while Little C wandered in and out of the closet, talking to himself and counting his fingers. I managed to get through the first part, about how poor little Joshua (the crippled lamb) always felt left out because he had a bad leg and the other lambs were mean to him. I remembered parts of the story as I read (it's easily been eight years since I read this one) about Abigail the nice old cow who encouraged Joshua that "God has a special place for those who feel left out." Why did that stupid dreamy-eyed cow have to say that? I got choked up on page two. Big C was sitting in my lap and he pointed to the drawing of the cow. "Is that his new mommy?" He asked. I sniffed. "Yes, she's . . . well, she's like his foster . . . foster mom." And then I really fell apart. Joshua the lamb was not able to go into the fields with the other lambs because he was crippled. He was different. He was broken. And my heart was just broken. I cried big, crocodile tears, desperately trying to pull myself together. But who was I crying for? The fictional lamb with a disability? For the next few pages, Joshua watches the birth of Christ unfold in the stable where he was left behind with Abigail the cow. When the baby Jesus is cold, Joshua curls up beside him to keep him warm and he stops crying. And then Joshua is reminded of Abigail's words: God does have a special place for those who feel left out.
As I wept my way through this children's book, Big C looked at me with complete astonishment. "You really ARE crying!" he exclaimed. "Yes, I am," I replied. Little C had stopped digging in his diaper long enough to notice my emotional breakdown.
"What's wrong with you?" Big C asked, "It's just a story. Besides it's all okay now, see, he's not sad anymore."
He was right. Joshua, the crippled lamb, made peace with his disability and his loss. He accepted God's purpose for his life, and was glad- maybe delighted - to be "the one" who stayed behind in the stable and got to be with Jesus.
And I'm gonna get there too- one day. But in the meantime, I hugged my little ones tight. They are mine for right now. I am here in this moment for this reason, just like Joshua.