Surgical update from 2/28 tympanomastoidectomy (and more...)Read More
Two weeks ago the preschool room was all aflutter (as it is each Midweek at Central). Steve was reading to about 7 preschoolers in one section of the room. Janeen was serving snacks and Benjamin was playing Legos with a few other kids who simply didn't want to stay in their assigned station. Meanwhile, I was attempting, furiously, to get small groups of 3-5 year olds to reflect on things they were thankful for. Some of them were primed and ready, "My toys, my kitty, my mommy," etc. All of these were very popular phrases. Another little boy (who I secretly could NOT wait to poll for this activity because he has the BEST little thoughts) told me he was thankful for "All of his bones." I was furiously scribbling their thoughts on a wheel for their parents to read later that night ... when, after a few rounds, my youngest son, who had been listening, deposited himself in my lap. He held his marker at the ready.
"I try... I do this ... Joshua try it."
I sighed ... I was sure he wasn't ready but I said, "Okay, buddy, what are you thankful for."
He grinned (as though he planned the bomb he was about to drop), "Momma. I thank YOU, Momma."
Stinkin' tears ... No tears. Not on the job ...
I wrote my own name on paper and said, "Who else di di?" (As if I needed to ask)
"Daddy!!!!" (And then, the floodgates opened. He raced, in a fury, through all of his people ... he spoke so quickly I couldn't keep up) "Momma, Daddy, Kayee, Guh guh, Mayee, KITTY!! nannda, pa, yea yea, nye nye!!!!"
And from then on I was a wreck ... no other little thanksgiving wheels would capture my heart that night. No other little kiddos and their super sweet thoughts would hold me captive. I had evidence, for that little moment, that my son was thankful to be where he was. He understood, (as much as he can right now), and he was willing to said it aloud.
We didn't go into our adoption story hoping for a thankful little boy. Please don't read that in this blogpost. My heart swells and bursts and the tears overwhelm me because despite all that happened to our little son this year, despite the trauma, despite the change, despite the perpetual upheaval ... He can, for that moment, express his thankfulness for a FAMILY.
On Thursday, during our Thanksgiving service, Pastor Steve Norman challenged us to share our story. God does more than give us things; He gives us a story and we have a responsibility to tell it.
Our story overwhelms me.
When I think of the smaller subplots, the intricacies of each piece woven throughout our epic novel, I am truly breathless.
So, this post has been plaguing me ... I'm not a good enough writer to do it justice.
Nevertheless, I feel so called.
14 years ago I was an aspiring teacher. I loved kids of all ages. I loved writing. I loved curriculum. My curriculum design professor had a daughter, a sweet little girl who needed a babysitter. I offered to help. She agreed to give me the privilege and from that moment on a fast friendship was born. I babysat for this precious little girl, an only child brought into her family by adoption. Jojo soon became my Friday night date - and I'd often (with permission) bring along my fiance to enjoy her company ... we knew then that adoption could someday be our future ...
A short 13 months after our wedding I met a mom in our Kalamazoo community. She had been a mom of one of my homeroom students and she loved tennis. Together we agreed to co-coach the varsity tennis team at Kalamazoo Christian. For the next 8 years our lives would overlap. We'd learn their family story, how God called them to adoption. Without knowing it then, our powerful God was shaping us, preparing us for our own story. He gave us experiences, tools, knowledge to recognize His movement, in His time.
As our first daughter approached school age, Steve and I crossed paths with an organization that later became a company that taught us about language immersion. They hired me for many significant years and provided our family with the chance to explore both Spanish and Mandarin languages. Through God's direction we moved homes, jobs, and cities (along with close friends by our side), to land our children directly in the path of Mandarin Chinese immersion.
Not coincidentally in just 3 short years of Zeeland living we had come to know more than 5 families with children in Mandarin immersion who had adopted from China. We had been lead to a church where we met a base of foster/adoptive families - and even some who had adopted from ... China.
When we retrace the last 14 years of our life, its impossible to miss each macro decision and some influential relationships, and how each pointed the way to the story God was crafting in our lives.
- They each led to the call to reorient our lives.
- They each led to the provision of over $30,000 in funding that we didn't have.
- They each led to a little boy without a family finding a messed up, crazy, imperfect group of people who were willing to be his forever.
- And they led us to lives forever changed. We have a new perspective; we have shifted priorities. Our goals are new ... and, as we look at the faces of our amazing littles, we dream about how God will use this, how God craft their lives, their experiences, and shape their perspectives.
We understand, clearly, that this is just the beginning...
So this season as I reflect on our year and our story, I'm thankful that this precious song gives words where I fall short ...
There won't be a day when you're not by my side.
There won't be a day that you left me fall.
All of my life your love will be true.
All of my life I'll worship you.
Friends ... so much has happened medically since our last request for prayers. I believe we mentioned the medical issues just prior to our big day of MRIs, CT scans and the sedated hearing test.
During those procedures, I was alone with Joshua and I couldn't understand a word any doctor was telling me. I was too busy focusing on my little guy who was coming out of anesthesia and thrashing like a crazy man. I was desperately trying to listen, but I wasn't going to miss being the first person J saw when we awoke.
As soon as the reports from that visit were available in writing, Google and I poured over the results. I couldn't believe what I was reading.
A whole bunch of medical words that this wasn't quite right structurally, but still Normal.
If what I was reading was true there was a whole lot going right in these tests.
I didn't dare post, as if putting it in writing to our precious blog followers would jinx the results. I vowed to myself I'd post, the DAY OF, our ENT follow up. So today, after Joshua made it through preschool (by all accounts from his amazing support team at ZCS, he really did a great job), we had lunch and took a nap. Then, we went to one of his favorite (lie) places. The doctor.
After assuring Joshua that there would be no shots (yes, I know how to say it in Mandarin but don't ask me to spell it), he ran excitedly in to the nurses. He willingly stood on the scale, measured his height and happily held out his arm for the pressure cuff (he picks up patterns LIGHTNING quick and doctors are routine).
Our ENT's office is always busy (hence the reason we waited nearly 6 weeks for a follow) but this doc is my favorite. He is gracious, kind hearted, sincere and honest. He explains everything practically, isn't afraid of getting his goatee picked at by a curious little boy or his equipment ruined (Joshua was allowed to 'check his own ears'). The summary of our visit was everything I had dreamed.
Joshua's right ear is an enigma. The hearing test we did in the office indicated that his low tones would be fine and high tones would be problematic, but, with the left ear working, he'd be well within the normal range. The follow up hearing test actually demonstrated the opposite spectrum. His right ear would have trouble with the high tones and the lower tones would be easy. This will make setting his BAHA (tomorrow morning) a bit challenging. The bottom line for the right ear, no intervention needed. It might be differently shaped, but functionally, it rocks (except for mounds of built up wax ... lol).
I should also note that our Dr. loved citing that his hearing is clearly NOT impeding his lifestyle or his learning. He's grown leaps and bounds in language, which he readily demonstrated for the doctor, and he's clearly capable of speech (good heavens is he capable of speech!)
Joshua's left ear is nothing short of miraculous. Yes, I know, cosmetically, he doesn't technically have an ear ... But, the canal is there and it opens into his head. Once his canal opens there is a blockage of some sort ... The scans were supposed to tell us what happens after the blockage. This is where the miracle comes in. Past the part of the ear where the ear drum resides, Joshua's ear is structurally normal. There is nothing wrong. Yes, he has no ear drum (those can be created. I know that for a fact because I have the scar to prove it), and yes, the canal is different, but after the ear drum, the middle and inner ear are beautiful.
This speaks hope for him. (and for us)
What level of hope?
That's still to be determined.
We are being scheduled for an OR visit at HDVCH (it's been a couple months, so lets get back there) to see if the ENT can remove the blockages from the left canal and clean out the right one ... Once those are cleaned, Doc will have a clear view of what stands between the canal and the middle ear. The results will determine our next steps.
MEANWHILE, Joshua also has this fascinating little pit (we call it a pinhole) in the side of his head, near his ear. It drains fluid, and we must take care of this "pit." So, while he's under doc is going to shoot dye into this pit and watch where the fluid goes. Understanding more about this pit - and its impact - will also help the diagnostic plans to be made with clarity and certainty.
In the end, there's a chance that our boy may hear without a hearing aid. It IS possible that after all of this, we may be able to provide him with enough procedures to give him not only the hearing in his left ear, but also an external ear (if he desires to have one that looks more typical, based on the way this boy LOVES to look at himself, I'm sure he'll have an opinion soon).
Friends, never, in our adoption process, did I ever consider that there would be this much hope. The words of the plastic surgeon on our initial consult still ring in my ears. "You better prepare to learn some sign language guys. (as he chuckles) But since you're already conquering Mandarin that shouldn't be a problem. What's one more language in that house of yours."
And here we sit, on the week of preschool beginnings - giving our son access to an education in two languages: his native and our native. And also bursting open wide the possibilities of better hearing - better access to world of sound - and more direct access to language.
On deck tomorrow for this huge week:
Central Midweek Begins (WOOT!)
Surviving Thursday (and Momma's book club at our house)
"Momma! Chiao Lao Shi ... (and he points to his mouth) ... Chiao Lao Shi ... DI DI!!"Read More
A wise friend of mine said something the other month that has stuck with me. I was having a hard day and needed to word vomit. She said, "Be careful not to share the hard with people who can't experience the joy."
Brilliant. Of course. We misrepresent reality just as much if we only speak in one state of life.
This advice has caused me to pause longer between blog posts. I don't want to censor the authenticity we've kept in this journey, but, I want to make sure that I'm sharing the joy amidst the hard. So this post, while there is hard embedded, is mostly joy.
This summer each one of my four tiny humans was approached by a young adult. That young adult looked them in the eyes and asked, "Could I mentor you?"
The kids who live at Maranatha (res kids) were assigned a staff mentor (OH SO many GENIUS programming implications from this, but that's not what this post is about). I'm talking about my all over the map, crazy beautiful humans being approached, and ASKED, weekly, to spend time with a young adult, 1 on 1. Not any young adult, some of the COOLEST young adults on the planet. YA's who spend time with them, play with them (already for 5 hours a day), teach them, plan special events for them, and now, mentor them.
Let that sink in a bit.
Can you imagine, as a little, having a big kid seeking out time with you!!!?? You don't feel like the tag along. You're sought after. You're the star. You're loved (by someone other than your Mommy).
Let me just tell you. This brought joy.
These mentors are as good as their word. They faithfully text to ask permission. They select creative activities. They show up. They focus. They read some devos. They talk to my kids about faith in real life (their lives). They answer real questions. They model great quiet times.
They.make.a.difference. They bring joy.
In this season of life where we really do chant mantras, "one foot in front of the other, just keep swimming, one day more," my little ones need some outside voices, some added perspective. They need a break, a respite, some relief.
So these mentor dates. These beautiful people ... They.bring.joy.
I've stolen some images from random mentor dates to illustrate my point, and to show you the joy.
Join me in seeing the beauty in the brokenness. See the beauty that happens when others come alongside. When others commit to a legacy of faith, an inter-generational approach to modeling the Christian life.
When that legacy envelops a worn out family, it models for its future children what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus ...
This brings joy ...
(Don't even get me started on all of the beautiful life lessons I hear they've discussed ... #heartoverflowing).
Side note: while Joshua obviously can't yet verbalize, he and his mentor spend time together, just like the big kids. And in so doing, all that he needs to know is clearly communicated. You are seen. You matter. You are loved.
Something tells me that the life God has planned for this little boy is going to demonstrate that my wildest dreams simply aren't wild enough.Read More
(an excerpt from a conversation with my little man as he avoids sleep) ...
"Momma?" (repeated 18 times in rapid succession so I have no chance to answer)
Yes, I smiled and replied, "Momma is staying home tonight and tomorrow. It's just a Momma and kids day."
"Oh Okay. Momma home. Baba home?"
"No, honey, Baba has to work tomorrow."
With a little sadness in his voice, "Oh, Baba work to...mor...oh"
"Good job, that's a tricky word. Yes baba works."
"Oh. Ge ge home?"
.... and on and on it went through each member of the family until he could recite (in a row) the plans of each person in the family, including the family cat, for the following day. Only after this was clearly implanted in his brain, would he rest.
He finished his long recitation, "Momma Home. Ge Ge home and baseball. Kayleigh home and bal ... leh. Maddie home and gym. Kitty home (complete with gestures). Baba work." did he finally get quiet. I was sure we could rest now and I waited for the soft rhythm of his breathing to slow ...
So, I was startled when he sat bolt upright, took my face in his hands, pressed his nose close to mine and said, "Di di !!!! Di Di home bye bye? ... Di di say bye bye home tom .. or ... oh?"
He couldn't be really asking this, could he? "Are you asking if you have to leave our home tomorrow? To say goodbye to our home??"
He nods ... and waits, still gripping my face.
"Oh no, baby ... No Joshua, no. You never have to say goodbye to our home. Di Di is home." He collapsed into a snuggly heap, popped his thumb in his mouth, and happily chanted to himself, in just above a whisper, "Wo ai Momma. Wo ai Baba. Wo ai Ge Ge. Wo ai Kayleigh. Wo ai Maddie. Wo ai kitty ...." Over and over he softly chanted it around his thumb until he fell asleep.
And I was reminded again about how its not about how many times he makes it to the toilet each day, or how fast he burns through all of the food we purchase. How its not about the number of hours we spend each night getting him to rest, or the ways we are adjusting to make his new life as secure as possible. It's about a home, a permanent home. A home that won't shift or change or fade away. A home that is secure.
So, I'm learning, quickly, that medical updates on Joshua just really aren't my thing. I can't get passionate about writing about doctors appointments or unknowns or waiting, etc. It doesn't inspire me.
BUT ... I know our prayer warriors are interested in updates, and I love how faithfully our followers do commit things to prayer. So, here's the current scoop:
We last left off after the visit to our neurosurgeon where we learned that Spina bifida was out and that the missing pedicle was a non-issue. We learned that the doctor wanted more information regarding some other "differently shaped" pieces of Joshua's head - and he was hoping to combine that with the ENT's information when we visited THAT doctor the following week.
Steve was able to get some time away from work and stay at home with Maddie and Benjamin while Kayleigh came along with Joshua and I to GR for the ENT. She was a great help, and she thoroughly enjoyed learning about the doctor's insights on her brother. BUT, before we saw a doctor we saw an audiologist who worked to try and get a baseline hearing test for Joshua. This proved to be an interesting venture. Having been a child with many, many ENT visits in my day, I was all too familiar with the obligatory tympanogram. The audiologist could get NO reading on either ear with this machine. This was concerning to us both. During the hearing test Joshua had very low readings, so low she wasn't sure he was totally understanding the test (I'll be honest it was pretty hard for me to follow and I've taken a bazillion of these babies). The end result was a conclusion that we really need a BAER hearing test (which is given under complete anesthesia).
** Kudos to the doctors for holding the MRI's and CT scans for the ENT who would definitely did add more procedures on to the day!!!***
The general conclusions were that Joshua would definitely need one, if not eventually two, BAHA devices to help him achieve normal (audible gasp) hearing. When the test BAHA was put on his head (he DID NOT play with it ... he seemed almost instinctively to know this would help him), his test improved DRAMATICALLY ... I was excited by this and really, now, can't wait to get him his soft band BAHA.
After the hearing test, we were told we had almost an hour to wait, but in typical "we care about families and children" fashion, we were seen right away. No wait necessary.
The ENT spent a great deal of time examining Joshua, watching his responses, observing his attempts at producing English, watching his communication in Chinese with his sister. "I don't believe the zero tympanogram."
He went and got the machine again and got a normal reading! He said, "it's tough to get a false positive on these things. This right ear may simply be blocked with fluid and/or covered up by the misshapen cranial structures. I'm anxious to see about the BAER ... it might be that we can fix the right ear with some procedures and then we are left with the need for only 1 BAHA, to cover the left ear!" WHAT.A.BLESSING. that would be for all of us!!!
In general, the office staff could not believe a). how well Joshua was communicating and responding with the hearing he had (they all believed he must be a smart kid!) b). that he has been home for less than a year. (Admittedly he was killing it with the behavior that day).
We could use specific prayer for what lies ahead in the following areas:
1. Prayers that our children's special health application flies through the state government and we can get Joshua's supplementary insurance ASAP! The audiologist was adamant that we put that all in place first before we get his BAHA. (we aren't in a position to argue, so we are following that process).
2. Prayers that we are able to keep Joshua calm and as comfortable as possible for his "monster" appointment on the 25th of July. Steve has a HUGE day at work that day and can't come, so I'm taking Kayleigh along for back up. She is the best at keeping Joshua calm and informed, so she's my choice :). BUT Joshua will have 3 tests under anesthesia: BAER hearing test, MRI on his head and his ears, a CT scan on his head/ears as well. Upon waking, and eating, we follow up some 2.5 hours later with the neurosurgeon to review the results. This will be a LONG day all taking place at the hospital.
3. Joshua stinks at being hungry ... this is typical for any kid, but kids from hard places often have really tough relationships to food. Telling him from 6:00 p.m. until almost 11:30 a.m. the next day that he can not eat eggs, or pretzels, or any of his favorite snacks will be difficult. Only giving him the clear liquids + popsicles in the morning will rattle him something fierce ... it's not what we ideally want going in to a big day, but its unavoidable. Pray for him with regard to that.
4. Pray that our next steps provide us with some clear answers and direction. Language growth is coming at our house with this smart little boy - but, I can't help but wonder how much faster it would progress if we could help him hear things more clearly.
Thank you for your faithful prayers and love for us in this journey,
"So much of me is made of
What I learned from you.
You'll be with me,
Like handprint on my heart"
~ Elphaba, Wicked
I feel like I've been blogging during the mostly hard. So a lot of the posts have had heavy themes, heartache, and authentic challenges. Yesterday we had some really unmistakable moments of joy. Our Joshua had a few really tough days last week and we were all feeling the need to "get away." In the summers our family is so blessed to have two places to get away. We travel to Norton Shores a LOT and live on the grounds of Maranatha Bible and Missionary Conference. You'll see it often on the blog this summer, I'm sure. We also sneak away for weekends at Slayton Lake at "the cottage." Each place brings with it beautiful learning moments, unique experiences, and huge parts of what make the Van Dyk kids, Van Dyks.
This weekend we snuck away for an overnight at "the cottage" with Grandpa and Grandma Van Dyk. We arrived Friday after Steve got out of work and enjoyed pizza (Joshua's favorite) on the pontoon boat and S'mores around the campfire. We knew bedtime could be a challenge (in a new place), but with the bunk room hosting two of his other siblings, Joshua went to bed willingly and slept straight through the night! (AMEN!) (Gallery below, click the image for more photos)
The next morning we woke to agenda of "play." Joshua jumped in with both feet to anything we could throw at him. He was enjoying each moment and each new opportunity. The Mastercraft isn't in the water yet, but the Boston Whaler was, so the kids asked if they could tube behind it. On the first turn out, Grandpa and Steve brought Joshua along to watch. I was making lunches and missed it, but he, apparently, wanted in on the fun. By the time I realized he was on the tube, and could take pictures, he was well into loving.every.second of it.
We implemented a full family nap time for almost 90 minutes after lunch and the kids rested well. Well, except Joshua. He slept for about 55 minutes and woke to come find me. He kept pointing back down to the tube, which he could see from the cottage slider window. "More. More. More..." He kept saying.
After everyone was awake, we ventured back down to the dock and hopped back on the tube for another 30 minute tube ride. I kept asking if Joshua was tired, but he kept saying "no." His antics mirrored his siblings. He'd place "go no hands" or "pretend to sleep" because the boat was so slow ... He'd chatter happily with the kids while riding along ... ((Gallery below, click the image for more photos)
And at that moment, my heart simply burst. I attempted freeze the moment in my mind's eye. Here's this boy, born across the world to someone I admire deeply. Through circumstances far beyond his control, he landed in our home in Zeeland, Michigan. And while he grieves, and adjusts, and I'm sure has many questions he can't yet voice, here he is exuding a joy he can't explain. As soon as those words entered my stream of consciousness, I traveled back to last Summer when we spent a lion's share of time, with the kids, reflecting on what the Christian life can look like ... when lived boldy, in the name of Jesus. It can come with trouble, it can come with hardship, but ... it can also come with a:
Anything is possible
...We know we were made for so much more than ordinary lives
It's time for us to more than just survive
We were made to thrive.
I couldn't think of any better way to explain how yesterday felt except through that song's bridge. Through so many hard moments, so many difficult adjustments, doing something so beyond the ordinary, by God's Grace, we were made to do this,
We were made to thrive.
So, we will press on. We will work to have courage. We will trust in God's Almighty provision because where He calls, He equips. And we will continue to share, to share our story for HIS GLORY.Read More
There are days I'm sure I can't do this any longer. I had one of them this week. We had setback after setback after setback. I was so discouraged.
We know (in our heads) that God is faithful but sometimes the head and the heart just don't match. We know it but we don't feel it.
One of the ways that I cope when these challenges hurl down is to reflect. I curl up with coffee or a Diet Coke and I allow my mind focus on progress, growth or learnings -- seeking something redemptive, however microscopic. Today, as I made the 8th snack (I wish I was kidding) before 10:00, I reflected on some lessons I can learn from my special little man. As I got to thinking, I realized how powerful this could be to write down ...both for him (later on) and maybe for other tired and discouraged Momma's out there ...
Within our setbacks there are lessons to be learned.
Here are the 3 lessons I am choosing to learn:
1. He yearns to connect
I always thought our family was pretty good at having meals together. We always sat down for dinner; we sometimes sat down for breakfast. We usually had a couple of us eat at a time for lunch. This seemed okay, given the 5 very active people who lived in our house. For Joshua, however, this is NOT enough. Today, I had the hot griddle going and I was making pancakes for lunch. I served him two to begin (he ended up eating 5 ... even after all of those morning snacks ... where DOES he put it!) and then I went on using up the batter while he ate.
He beckoned me ... curling his little fingers and rapidly waving his wrist ... He pointed to the chair next to him.
I pointed to the hot griddle and the batter .. "Just a minute and then I'll join you."
He put down his fork and beckoned again ...
This went on and on and on and on until, finally the pancakes were done, a plate full of steaming food in front of him, and I sat down.
I hadn't planned on eating pancakes. I am on a modified eating plan.
This was not acceptable. We should eat together.
On first impulse this is frustrating ... just let me eat how I wish, J. But, really, I think it's very wise. Meal times are for shared fellowship, for communication, for connection. He wanted to connect. He wanted to talk with me ... It might be that he knows more than I do about what connecting really requires.
2. He celebrates his victories
Joshua likes to do things "the right way." I don't know why this is a part of his being, but it is. He watches, like a hawk, for patterns and processes. He studies the other children and imitates all that they do (talk about upping your role model game!). He examines my facial expressions and if he gets a hint of disapproval, he quickly revises what he is doing.
Today at lunch Joshua shoved his plate away and it crashed into the other items on the table. He read my expression and quickly pulled the plate back. "Gentle ...." he said (in English) "Gentle Joshua ..." and he ever.so.slowly pushed the plate away again (we've worked hard on repeating our activities correctly!!!). The second time he was careful and quiet; he demonstrated that he knew what to do. As I smiled, he sat a little straighter. He beamed. He held out his hand for a high five. He took pride in doing things well and in doing things "the right way." And he allowed himself to celebrate this.
What would my life look like if I said this at the end of a day: "Wow! No one went to the ER. No one was late. We didn't forget any lunches, snacks, or essential clothing items. I spent at least one moment with each child using their love language intentionally today. All appointments were made. This.was.a.good.day"
Instead of how I usually sum it up: "Ugh, I shattered my iPhone, I yelled at Maddie. I didn't mop the floor, again, and I messed up that calendar reservation at work. When will I ever get through a good day."
Perhaps I'd have a little more joy about me if I stopped analyzing all of the areas in which I fell short and instead took a moment to focus on the few things I did really well.
3. Be unquenchable
The fact that this comes to my son, despite a hard beginning, is amazing to me. My son knows how to have fun. I constantly marvel at all of the ways he manages to pick himself up and go at it again. There are days when the kid can't catch a break. He trips and falls, he has trouble with bathroom control, he can't figure out the door knob, or he bangs his head (again) and then he breaks a favorite toy ... sometimes all of those things occur in a one hour period! There are so many new things to learn. I keep waiting for this little guy to get overwhelmed and give up. But he doesn't. Even on his toughest days he keeps on keeping on.
The most amazing thing though is that, unlike his Momma, who keeps trudging through (sometimes with a sour attitude), Joshua keeps on with a song in his heart. He sings and sings nonsense and sings more nonsense all.day.long. When we listen to worship music in the car he hollers, he belts, he sings Christ Redeemer in gibberish, he waves his hands to the tune of God of Angel Armies, despite the fact that he is absolutely clueless about the words. His spirit (right now) is unquenchable.
Oh that I'd approach each hard day with the ability to continue singing, and not singing grudgingly, singing with everything in my being ... in a foreign language ... in a foreign country ... with a smile on.my.face. Maybe a few more days with this little nugget by my side and I might be able to attempt it.
Momma readers, I challenge you ... What can you learn from the seemingly mundane? What can you see in your reflections that your little ones can teach you? I'd love to hear more ...
I'm learning, as I continue to grow in my role as a wife and mother, that my worldview has been radically altered. This past year has been a flood of incredible triumphs intermingling into an ocean of bitter hardships.
This reality was painfully real on Mother's Day, for me. I had looked forward to Mother's Day, my first as a mom of four. But when I woke up something felt different. Instead of looking at the smiling mothers that surrounded me, I saw the foster moms at church with fresh eyes. I recalled the stories of infertility that I have prayed over this past year. I thought of a mom I love separated from half of her kids while overseas with her other half. I remembered the precious souls we said goodbye to this year - and prayed over those mothers whose hearts were aching. I couldn't sit and sink in to my "treats" in the same way because I am now living "in the both/and" (as my sweet friend calls it).
I live in a world of joy. It's full, it's rich. Sometimes the joy is deeper and richer than ever I could have imagined (probably for all it has overcome). But alongside that joy is the constant reminder that I live in a deeply broken world. I see the pain, the trauma and the grief in a more real way than I ever have in my privileged life.
So this past Mother's Day, the weight of the brokenness strained my heart. The little Asian face of my fourth child, with its lopsided grin (still more brokenness), stared up at me, a constant reminder ... My heart broke for his birth mother and for the aches this will cause him throughout his life. My heart ached for this fractured relationship. Mother's Day served as another reminder (as if we don't have a lot of those right now) that while I mother him presently, there were mothers before me. I broke for them. I broke to the point that it seemed silly to celebrate ... My celebration is in the lives in front of me - my celebration is in the daily opportunity that I have been given, in this fragile world, to mother anyone at all, let alone four precious little lives.
If it were just me - just me affected by this living in the both/and, I think I could grin and bear it. After all, I answered the call; Steve and I made the choice to chase after the brokenness. We should feel the consequences. But it doesn't just affect us.
The world of our children has also been radically changed.
I feel like I stumbled upon this reality as I was compiling Benjamin's birthday book. There were pages of joy - he had a fun filled summer with waves and sand and sun. He had late night glow parties and evening events where all he ate was bacon and all he drank was Mt. Dew. He had carefree days on the playground and family events and birthday parties. He started a few new sports. He traveled to China for 17 days and experienced a new culture in a way few people ever could.
But ... then I saw the evidence of his two worlds ...
Amidst those same pages, my 7 year old buried an "uncle," he walked faithfully beside a friend who lost his Dad. My son waited as his parents saved money (and stopped buying things he was used to having) in order to bring home a little boy he had never met. When he finally met that little boy, he dealt with the range of emotions from hyperactivity, grief, fear, shock, love, acceptance, bewilderment, taboo subjects, and so many emotions in between.
Day in and day out I watch my all of my kids experience the weight of both of these worlds. They are happy and they experience joy - but nearly every joyful experience is a reminder of the sting of grief. On his birthday morning, Ben asked about one of his favorite pictures - it's a horribly unflattering photo of me ... in the triage room ... at Bronson Hospital. I'm sunburned from coaching the Varsity Girls at the Conference Meet (they won that year, by the way), I'm 38 weeks pregnant, and I am swollen EVERYWHERE and massive (for real, massive). My husband decides to take a photo - he said, "It'll be your last one pregnant -" and I made a horrible face. Ben loves that photo. It reminds him of our connection. That photo anchors him to a beginning, anchors him to his mommy.
As Ben enjoyed that photo - Joshua looked on. The kids explained to him what the photo was and Joshua giggled. He then pointed at the photo, pointed to me and said, "I was in there too!" He said it with such confidence. He said it with such joy. I didn't need my interpreters to tell me what was said. I watched something die a little in the eyes of my older son. With tears, he knelt before his brother. "No, little brother. You came from inside a different Mommy. You came from inside her belly, not this one. We don't know her, but she grew you!"
Joshua didn't understand. They were brothers. They did everything together.
And together, my boys and I, we sat in those two worlds. Ben and I realizing the things that brought us deep joy were now going to cause us some grief. We hurt alongside our hurting little man.
I realized then, it won't be just Mother's Day, or birthdays. It will be Father's Days, and forever family days, and timeline preparations for preschool, and graduations, and big medical procedures, and any success or accomplishment, even ordinary days when well meaning people say, "Where are you from?"
As committed as we are to being Joshua's forever family, we are that committed to learning how to live amidst the beauty as it intermingles with so.very.much.hard.
Steve and I talked long and hard when it came to Joshua's initial medical file. Up until Joshua, our ventures into the medical world have consisted of a few ear infections, a couple of bouts of croup and one broken wrist. We have had incredibly healthy children. (knocking on wood here). We knew taking in Joshua, with some special needs questions, was going to tax us in ways we never experienced.
We went into this knowing we would have hearing issues.
We went into this knowing that surgeries (depending on how severe the hearing issues were) would be happening.
We also were prepared for the chance that Joshua was almost completely deaf (We're already working on Mandarin Chinese, what's the harm in adding ASL to the mix)
These we were ready to tackle.
We were also told to prepare for the unknown.
And a bit of unknown we have here ...
While in China when we noticed that our boy had a bit of an abnormality near his lower spine. This didn't seem to bug him at all, so we let it go until our medical appointment in Guangzhou. The doctor said, "Oh. Huh. Spina bifida. Was that on his report?" Steve and I were quite shocked (and yes, alarmed). The doctor read our expressions and said, "Oh no ... no no ... that's not what it is ... But it's still worth an MRI when you get back to the States."
We left our medical report a little surprised, but we wasted no time getting in to our pediatrician upon arriving at home. Here we learned the correct term for the aforementioned marker was a sacral dimple. These dimples can be nothing at all, or they can be indicators of something else. So, our pediatrician referred us to Helen DeVos for an MRI to check for Spina Bifida. In addition (because of the ear malformation) we had an ultrasound to locate possible kidney abnormalities.
Our experience at Helen DeVos was no less than spectacular. I had heard good things about this place, but I'm also a difficult person to please, so I didn't expect to be wow'd. I was wow'd. From the moment we arrived until the moment our free valet arrived with the car, our child's comfort was of tantamount importance. The playrooms were amazing. The nurses were astounding. Joshua (though a little unsure about all of this) was more than happy to blow bubbles (inside!!!) at the nurses as they wheeled him away to anesthesia. When we were paged (yup, we were at the Starbucks in the food court), we returned as quickly as possible but Joshua was already up, sipping a juice, and trying to convince the nurse he was ready to walk around. The MRI started early and took LESS time than expected (how often can you say that at a medical office). We were then looking at a nearly 2.5 hour wait before the ultrasound appointment. To our nurse, that was simply unacceptable. Our nurse took us immediately down the hall for an ultrasound. Joshua happily snuggled with Mom while they "tickled his tummy." By 9:20, our valet had been called, and we were out of the hospital in under 3 hours total time - a full 2 hours before our ultrasound had been scheduled to start. What.a.gift.
The waiting game for results was not as much fun. But, we received a call today (Wednesday) from our pediatrician's office. We had two pieces of great news and one piece of wait and see's.
- Great news #1: There are no markers for spina bifida at all. There was no evidence of a tethered cord. We are clear of that hurdle. HOORAY!
- Great news #2: Kidney function looked fantastic. There was nothing to be concerned about on the ultra sound
- Wait and see news: Joshua's MRI DID show that part of the pedicle of his l4 vertebrae was missing. In short, a piece of his spine wasn't there. We are being referred to a neurosurgeon at Helen DeVos for follow ups.
So, in a nutshell, not a lot of clarity, but some progress.
Next steps: we wait for the scheduling call from the neurosurgeon's office AND we anticipate our appointment at the ENT (who, we were told, would likely need to order more imaging to assist with next steps).
All in all, I'm proud of my brave little man. He was talking to Kayleigh after his big day at Helen DeVos. She asked if anything hurt. With a pathetic little sad face he held up his hand (bruised from an IV that was inserted after he was asleep and removed before he woke up) and said, "My hand, but I don't know why."
We'll keep you posted on future updates, and we covet your prayers for all of the big things ahead for our precious little man.
Baba and DiDi pre-procedure, watching Finding Dory in the waiting room
(Thinking I might use Steve's little tag just as a precaution tl;dr - too long; don't read ... this post is lengthy, even for me, so feel free to skip it or save it ... but my heart is saying write, so, I write).
This morning Steve and I rose early. He and Kayleigh were due at church for rehearsal by 8. That left me with Joshua, Madeleine and Benjamin to ready ourselves together. (It actually was a breeze). That's not the story though ...
The story begins as we head down Central Ave (totally on time, might I add).
From a distance Ben shouts, "I can see church! I can see church!"
Ever the parrot in his language acquisition Joshua echoes, "CHUCH! CHUCH! CHUCH!!!"
An outsider would never mistake it for clear speech, but what was unmistakable was his enthusiasm. There was joy on his face; there was energy coursing through his body. He couldn't wait to be unrestrained and begin his race to the Central Kids doors.
As we pulled in the lot I captured his attention and began my usual litany, "Momma takes Maddie and Josh to class. Momma says bye, bye! Play, sing, learn (complete with HILARIOUS GESTURES, might I add!)... Momma Lie-la (Rough translation: Momma comes back). Everyone goes HOME."
Joshua gives me the double thumbs up and continued to softly whisper, "Chuch! CHUCH! CHUCH!"
I expected that his enthusiasm would fade when we reached the check in desk - and if not there, for sure by the time we reached the preschool room. Instead, as we headed down the hallway, he continued wiggling to get free. Proudly, and with great enthusiasm he shouted (for the world to hear), "Joshua, GO POTTY!!!!"
I chuckled and took him (thankful for that he was willing to use his voice and his words in this still new setting). After he's washed up, he points to the large group classroom. He walks in, receives his sticker, nods to the table with crafts, and confidently says, "Momma, bye bye!!!"
My spirits soared. (I have NO assumptions that this will always work or that this will always be smooth. I expect transitions to be difficult and perhaps he won't always want to go) But today, his spirit, his responses, his reactions, his confidence; it was a testament to me that he felt safe. This place. These people. These ministry leaders who have worked to love him, to partner with us, have convinced him that this can feel like home.
I fairly danced (not really, no one would want to see that on a Sunday morning) my way up to the Worship Center. I took a seat with Kayleigh and waited with expectation for what God would say to me this morning. The amazing thing about Central is that God finds a way to challenge me, comfort me, make me think, or redirect my vision in ways I never anticipate. Coming in on Sunday morning is truly (I know, I'm a dork) as exciting as the opening pages of a brand new novel, or diving into Lake Michigan on a sweltering day or sometimes its as comfortable as my favorite blanket on the couch. Today, I was eager to hear what God would have me learn. To make the service even more engaging, my insightful child was by my side. (This usually means I get the pastor's insights plus Kayleigh's fresh take on whatever she hears ... ) Kayleigh was PULSING with excitement. I figured she was giddy because she would be participating in worship today, so I never saw this moment coming ...
As the video announcements wrapped up and the chords of the first worship song began to play, I knew, immediately, the reason for her giddiness ... The opening choral anthem was the Carrie Underwood/Vince Gil arrangement of How Great Thou Art. Easily one of my favorites. She knew it was coming and had kept it a secret, knowing just how much I'd love the surprise of those first few notes. She heard my sharp intake of breath and simply squeezed my hand.
As our worship team summoned us to our feet, Kayleigh and I gladly obliged ...
and then, I heard it.
The too loud singing,
just a little off key ...
The embarrassingly loud singing ...
the kind I'm sure everyone three to four rows in front of us can hear, too loudly ...
Kayleigh was in her glory. She loves this arrangement, but not nearly as much as she loves singing Mandarin with the worship team. So instead of trying to match the singer (she had no desire to do that) she praised God wholeheartedly - with all that that thin little body could muster - In a totally different language. Today, of all days, I didn't shush her ... I didn't ask her to tone it down. I relished the fact that in this place, in this church, with these people ... She felt safe. To her, this felt like home.
As I continued through the service, element after element was a perpetual testimony that the vision to amplify Hope and Life to ALL was more than words. It was evident in the intentional details of the service.
We were blessed to reflect on what it sounds like for "all the earth to shout your praise." We heard what it might sound like as 8* languages, one at a time (with the printed script on the big screen to honor each language) shared the Lord's Prayer: English, Spanish, German, Mandarin Chinese, Luganda, Russian and Welsh. (*One more, actually, but that's coming later). Our senior pastor delivered the Lord's Prayer in his native language of Welsh and his wife was prayed in her native language of German. Most other speakers on stage were able to deliver the prayer in their native language, while Kayleigh used her second language. As she left the stage she whispered, "Mom, I love that our church values language. Just like we do at home."
I love that too. I love that home and church feel so intertwined. I love that our (now) transracial family is accepted at our church - and in fact, we are realizing just how many families there really - are as we get more connected. And if that were all, if those were the last pieces that made our Sunday feel encouraging, it'd be more than I could ask for at this point.
But its not ...
We changed our regular seats for the second service. All of us wanted to hear "the languages" again (for the first time for Benj, Josh and Mae). I wanted our second language Mandarin speakers to see how many people were like them - capable of using more than one language for real communication. I wanted our second language English speaker to hear his language spoken and honored (and oh did he notice it!!!!). But, we also knew our busy family of 6 wouldn't make it through two full services, so we sat on the "wings." Unknowingly, we landed squarely in the middle of the deaf community at Central. We were welcomed (and completely clueless) until the interpreter began her work.
That's when the tears fell, as it hit me full force. I'm snuggling this little China boy, with only one ear, in a congregation of hundreds in tiny Holland, Michigan. Just last night we exposed him to the cultural phenomena that is Tulip Time. But what does he see and hear today at his "ChUCH." He sees people with baha's attached to their ears. He sees a lady working to communicate with them using her hands. The lady is smiling at him and waving at him too (he likes that)! He hears beautiful music (and oh does he love music and rhythm and drums... he always taps the rhythm on my shoulder with this fingers) and lots of words ... and he sees. He sees Mandarin Characters. Those look familiar. On the giant screen. Larger than life. He hears his big sister - standing in front of all of those people on the stage with bright lights. She's speaking his language. Speaking words he understands. Speaking words he probably misses.
And all of this okay. All of this accepted. All of this is celebrated.
These 9 languages, these countless families, these communities, they all feel safe, they feel at home.
What does my largely wordless son learn from this?
That he belongs here.
That he is safe here.
That this place - with these people can feel like home.
I pray that his heart is receptive. I pray that we are continuously open to seeing the world through his eyes. But I am so thankful to have received the gift of a church home that works - as best it can - to help all people want to come running in to the parking lot screaming "Chuch! CHUCh! CHUCH!"
What better way for us to step into a big medical day (tomorrow, Monday the 8th) than on the wings of a supportive church family - with the prayers of so many surrounding us. I'll do my best to share the medical news as soon as we know more.
Day to day life is difficult right now. There are moments of beauty and moments of heartache. There are moments of joy that bring such energy, and there are moments that are life-sucking. In my quiet times, though, God is faithful. He brings to mind images - critical pieces in our puzzle - choices we made (some choices we prayerfully considered and far others we were "trusting our instincts"). When I look back on the path of those choices, on the critical junctures in our lives, God's plan was in motion. He was setting us up, preparing us, equipping us for
Showing is always better than telling ... so let me show you.
February, 2011 - we attended a language immersion meeting at Kalamazoo Christian Schools and met two women who would grow my personal passion for language education via immersion
August, 2011 - we enrolled our firstborn, then not yet 3, in language immersion preschool in Spanish and we began our love affair as a family with immersion education
August, 2012 - I began working for both the school and for add.a.lingua to continue delving into passionate pursuit of language immersion work
May, 2013 - the 5 of us moved to Zeeland to attend Zeeland Christian and for Kristi to work for add.a.lingua, situating us nearby the Mandarin Chinese Immersion program
August, 2013 - enrolled our firstborn (and switched her language) in Mandarin Chinese preschool coupled with Spanish preschool ... added Benjamin to Spanish immersion threeschool too
dates get a little murky here but one evening at a small group meeting in our home we were challenged to pray a big prayer, a HUGE prayer, a prayer we hadn't dared to utter before (I'm not sure that's how it was described, but that's how I remember it). We had to write down this courageous prayer on a small slip of paper, and we were going to exchange it with one other person. That person would commit to that prayer, they would constantly lift it up ... I couldn't believe what I was writing, but I remember being shocked at what came off my pen ... Pray for us as we work to bring home our son from China.
I had no business writing that prayer. We hadn't talked about a boy. We hadn't really talked about China. We hadn't talked about adoption in years but for some reason that was on my heart. That was my big prayer. I was so sure it would never happen or that it'd be 10 years or so before it ever did that I didn't think anything of it. I wrote it down. And I know, I know for a fact, that Amy prayed for that prayer long after that evening was over.
A short time later we left that small group, for another clear and distinct (but largely unexplainable) call. We felt called to a church that was passionate about international missions in Asia - a place that was sold out to working locally and globally. We hoped for a way for our kids to see the church interacting with the people they were growing to deeply love. We also hoped our kids could some day utilize their growing passion for people, for language, and for Jesus in an authentic way through their church.
Our family vision collided with a church when we came to Central. The Stronger Challenge spoke to us in real and authentic ways. The campaign was about making the church stronger at home AND stronger away. This vision was a grand scale of what we hoped to do in our home - give our kids a strong foundation while preparing them to GO ... We were parenting to SEND - that's what immersion is for us. It may not be the mission field, specifically, but their language gives them access to a billion people - a billion people who need the love of Jesus in many areas of their life.
We saw this developing in the stronger challenge - and Central asked us to put that into words ...
We had no idea when we filmed this video how God would use our kids internationally (specifically Benjamin ... doesn't watching him here give you goosebumps, knowing how he USED that language to show love this last month?)
By the time the church aired the video, sometime in April, we had already received our pre-approval to adopt Joshua ....
As we began to see our role in a church through this larger vision, God provided even deeper clarity to our family mission. He showed us the purpose behind all of those changes, behind all of those "choices." Each change was a piece of His bigger puzzle, His purpose and His plan for our family.
On days like today I need to pause, to remind myself that in the hard, the busy, the ugly moments, God foresaw this family. He breathed it into being. He orchestrated it like a cosmic conductor; He crafted the storyline like a gifted writer.
I am so very fortunate to be able to watch His beauty unfold in a front row seat.
I await, with breathless anticipation, the revealing of His next chapter.
This parenting journey is something else. I keep telling myself that I must grant myself some grace. It's been 18 days ... only 18 days since we've been home ...
18 days to learn how to be a parent to 4 children under 9.
18 days to help a little Chinese boy explore life in a family
18 days to spend all day, every day, with an ESL student
18 days is just not much time.
So ... I need to celebrate the progress we've made and acknowledge the chance to learn from my mistakes (because oh I'm making them constantly).
One area of this journey has been particularly on my heart as of late. It's this absolute dichotomy of hard things juxtaposed to Spirit-given joy. Let me use yesterday afternoon/evening as a specific example ... I'll spin the story for you so you get some clear mental pictures.
It's 5:45 on a Monday evening. Steve's not yet home (picking up child #1 at ballet). So, it's 3:1, and, as every mother knows, the 4-6 p.m. hour is prime time for some of the best parenting EVER. Benjamin is doing homework (he still has make up work from China), Madeleine is setting the table and Joshua is doing his typical 5:30 dance-like-I've-never-eaten-and-can't-wait-a-second-longer in the kitchen. This dance includes periodically clutching both of my legs together and shrieking "MOMMAAAAAA" on repeat at full volume until I stop preparing the dinner, stoop down to meet his eyes, and assure him (only with tone since words obviously don't carry much meaning yet) that dinner is on the way. I momentarily detach my precious son from legs in time to place the vegetables and the freshly sliced apples on the table beside the bag of chips that Madeleine has decided will pair well with our pizza (thanks to friends we had a Papa Murphy's gift card to use). Before I can turn back to the sweet boy I gently pulled off my legs I see the unthinkable. Joshua has reached the oven. He's reaching for the door - because, again, (I've-never-eaten-and-can't-wait-a-second-longer and she put what I want IN THAT WHITE CONTRAPTION). I trip over Madeleine, yup, knocked her clean over, lunged at the boy before he ever got that door open a fraction of an inch ... and screamed "BOO TWAY!!!!!!!!" Joshua startled just long enough for me to slam the lock on oven door (is that what that is for? I've really never used one in my ENTIRE LIFE) and slump to the floor, ready for my own tears. There's not room for Momma's tears, though, because ... I've got one 4 year old daughter screaming because her pride is hurt. One 3.999 year old son screaming because I yelled (and probably freaked him out) ... And a 6 year old who is so sensitive that he cries simply because other people are crying. I'm hyper ventilating ... AND I'm making mental notes to read up on all of the other safety features on the appliances as I kiss cheeks, wipe tears, work to renew a normal resting heart rate ... oh, and finish prepping dinner.
Sigh ... Thank you, Jesus, for protection, for the fact that I was watching .... for the fact that I was just a few steps away ... for the fact that the most we suffered here in this very, very common scenario was a few tears (and probably a little over-reaction on the part of a Mommy).
I mentioned a dichotomy ... So, here's the other half ... That very evening ... maybe only about 90 minutes later ...
We were preparing to read together (we're close the end of The Magician's Nephew), and we had a little extra time. I suggested we turn on the Mandarin worship songs from school. We hadn't done this since Joshua came home, and I felt like it was a good idea to try (translation: the Holy Spirit was prodding me and, obtusely, I thought it was my idea until I realized later just how clearly God ordained it was). As song after song came on, I watched a change come over Joshua. He tuned in ... he watched. He focused. He listened. He TRIED THE MOTIONS. He mouthed the words. He was INCHES from the screen - captivated by the familiar words - and what's more - the familiar faces. It never occurred to me, until I watched this as an adoptive mom, how powerful the faces are. Chinese American children are singing these worship songs, in Chinese. For my boy - who is away from the familiar - he is seeing faces that are familiar ... faces that look like his ... and those faces are singing powerful truths of Scripture and of God's Word.
I wept. This time no one else was weeping and I had the space to do so.
Tonight, as we started to clean up dinner, Joshua pointed to the iMac in the corner
"Do you want music, Josh?" I asked.
He nodded furiously, scampered down from the table and parked himself right there ... ready to listen.
Does it strike you as coincidental (if you believe in those things) that the translation of the song he loves is so powerful?
You are my life; you are my song.
You're my salvation, when all my hope is gone.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem, your presence surrounds me the same.
You are my strength, Oh Lord, you are my shield, my song
My solid rock, on you I stand, I trust in you.
The song is embedded below so you can watch the entire 3 minutes if you wish. I strongly recommend it. And as you do, picture a little boy, far from home, clad in dino pajamas ... learning so much, and being so brave. And thank the Lord that someone far greater than I stands to surround that little boy - someone far stronger than Steve is his strength, and shield and song.
Tonight as I go to bed (and pray that all of my precious sleeping babes have deep and restful sleep), I thank God that though I sometimes want to change my name - change it to avoid the constant screams of MOMMA MOMMA MOMMA (from all 4 kiddos) ... God never changes His name. He's there for us, each of us, as our strength, our salvation and our hope.
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China was so incredibly exciting. There were big moments each day! Every first ... Every step ... and of it felt newsworthy. Home isn't like that. There's not much to say about the 6 loads of laundry we did on Tuesday, or the three fairly successful dinners I cooked the family. No one really needs to know that even though we were late every day to school, each child managed to have clean clothes and pants and shoes and socks upon their little bodies (we won't mention the frequency of Mom's showers ... we all need a little grace) :)
So, I apologize for the lack of news. We've heard from several of you that miss our daily updates! What a flattering report! Neither of us has ever written anything that people looked forward to reading, so we consider it a blessing to be that for some of you. It's much more difficult now, to sort through the events of daily life, to analyze what is significant and what is mundane. Nevertheless, we feel a responsibility to continue to tell our story. Adoptions aren't only about international travel and embracing a new child. They are about the fusing of a family - the growth of love and trust and acceptance - the mutual meeting in the middle where cultures and lifestyles combine. This journey has only just begun for us. So, we hope you continue to follow along (subscribe if you like, I'll include the form below so you can have posts emailed directly to your inbox) - and continue to interact with us. We want to dialogue with you, not for our own notoriety, but for God's glory. This has been HIS call, and HIS provision; we are so thankful that He allowed us to play this role in His greater story.
All of that being said, when I consider the past 7 days, I find myself observing Joshua with such wonder and awe. There is so much that seems mundane, but for him - its all miraculous. Don't get me wrong - he tries my patience, tests my capacity for forgiveness, presses my buttons (how DID he figure out what they were so rapidly), and forces me to grow my mommy skills in ways I never expected. But in all seriousness, we are talking about a little boy who, without the foundations that come from being securely attached in a family, flew across the world and jumped head long into a new life.
In the past 7 days Joshua has:
- flown on three airplanes (he slept 7 of the 13 hours on the long haul home from China)
- met two sisters and two sets of grandparents
- gone swimming
- attended two services at Central Wesleyan (he even made it through all of today's sermon)
- played with Legos
- survived pick up and drop off several times at Zeeland Christian (and LOVED our after school play time with the Mandarin families)
- met his future teachers
- worked on riding a tricycle
- walked around the neighborhood
- ate macaroni and cheese, pancakes, hamburgers, Cheerios, Lucky Charms, and fettuccini alfredo,
- took two jogs with Mommy and one with Daddy
- visited a dentist
- lost a tooth *** (we found he had an infected tooth upon arrival at home. Our dear dentist friend saw him, gave him x-rays and told us he'd likely lose it on its own at some point ... two days later it was gone. We don't even know when or how!)
- saw the pediatrician (and got many referrals for MRI's and ultrasounds to come)
- jumped on a trampoline
- had an outdoor picnic
- watched (part) of an at-home movie
- took a long hike on the trails
With each new activity, Josh has jumped in with both feet. It's not uncommon to see me trailing along behind this little guy as he pulls me to move faster - go further - explore more. He has a thirst to learn and do and be. He wants to take it all in. At lunch one afternoon he told his brother, "Brother, I'm an American now. I am from America." We all laughed. He is embracing his new life with more vigor than we could have imagined.
At nighttime, though, as things begin to slow down, we see the beginnings of grief creep in. His new bed is not a place of comfort. His new room is great for fun, but it isn't a place of solace for him. He craves our company each night - and whenever he wakes. We must be next to him until he falls asleep. We are free to leave when he is asleep, but he cries and cries until our company returns each and every time he wakes. Some nights are better and we only have to return once or maybe twice. Other nights we return every 40 minutes to help console his tender heart.
It's exhausting ...
but we are reminded why we did this .. why we were called to this ... and we return each wake up with renewed resolve. It's our job to teach him (with God's help) that people can be trusted.
And bless God - we keep seeing him grow in his understanding of all of it...
Twice while we were in China Joshua took a tumble ... tumbles that would have sent any of my other children screaming to my arms (for many many hugs). It was with deep pain that I watched Joshua pick himself up, rub the pain out, and never utter a cry ... I tried to scoop him up and rub at the spot, cover it with kisses, tell him I was so sorry it hurt .... but in country he would never move. Never acknowledge my attention ... Tonight, however, he slammed is head into our dining room table (yup ... he's so short he can nearly pass under the table without ducking), and he began to rub the pain away himself ... but as he saw me looking, his lip went sideways, his face cringed, and the sobs began to come .... he flung himself into my arms and cried for a minute before hopping down and returning to chasing the cat's tail (the activity that caused the knock in the first place) ... I knew that head bump was far less painful than the tumbles he'd taken in China. But his cries weren't about the pain. His cries were proof that he was learning, learning we were there. Learning that a Mommy's job is to hold your pain, to ease your fears, and to be your shoulder to cry on.
I cling to those little moments when we once again sit down, for about the 1,000th time, and fully envelope him in a safe hold, repeating, "hands are for hugs, and hands are for helps. Hands aren't for hitting ..." We demonstrate good uses for hands and have him repeat those actions. We praise the times when he uses his hands for great things (he was the only child who successfully put away his shoes AND his coat after church, without being asked!!!) and we diligently keep teaching, teaching the norms of his new life.
I am sure we will blog plenty of hard (I hope you've come to trust that about me as a blogger - honesty and openness is how I prefer it), but one of my most treasured moments happened today. I desperately needed a break - a moment without those tiny hands wrapped around me. So, my loving husband offered to take Joshua for a run in the jogger. Benjamin was across the street playing basketball and Madeleine was with the neighbor girl in the side yard. Kayleigh was going to bike along with Joshua - so I was anticipating a few moments to "do nothing." As we explained the plan to Joshua and I said, "Bye bye." He ran around the couch, reached for my face and planted a giant kiss on my cheek. He turned my face and matched a kiss along the other side (the way I have done to him since we met) ... and I melted at the returned affection. He scampered away in that crazy toddler running way that he has ... and before he hit the door he was running back to me ... He repeated the kisses and leaving process many times before Steve finally spirited him out the door ...
I love that despite all of the newness, despite the fact that this child can't understand most of the words that come out of my mouth ... I love that despite our cultural differences, despite the fact he still doesn't like my fried rice (I'm on my 3rd recipe), despite the fact that I'm probably making about 1,000 mistakes a day ... He is still getting it. He still knows that I love him - and he maybe, just maybe, loves me back. What an amazing feeling that is.
I pray that, when he snuggles in to bed at night, with one of us next to him, he feels that love too ... and that security ... That despite everything, we're there - and we love him.
Oh boy are we tired. :) Some serious realities are settling in (good realities and not so great realities). Tuesday morning at the consulate was a great day - intense and busy - nerve wracking at times, but overall it went well. The consulate has many rules and procedures that I'm sure are for our safety, but I resented leaving my cell phone at the hotel (on such an auspicious occasion) only to have them take my no longer synced Apple Watch at the security counter :). We also couldn't get our boy's snacks inside (which has proven to be the best way to keep him stable and happy). So, we weren't set up for success. Considering all of that, things went relatively smoothly. After two or so hours of standing when told, speaking when told, answering questions when asked, giving fingerprints, etc we were told we would receive our Visa in 48 hours time. We left them with our son's passport and many important documents and trusted that we would see it all again. We were instructed (many times over) NOT to open the visa. We were told stories of families who did open it, or who tampered with the seal and were sent back to China, at US the border, at their own expense, to get the Visa resealed at the Consulate. What a nightmare!
After the consulate we returned to eat and recover at our hotel. The afternoons and evenings are all about the same - nap, swim (if its not raining) and then find some dinner before baths and bed. The routine is amazing - but will best be experienced in our home! At the same time, we are so thankful for the suite set up - putting the boys to bed and then having a couple of hours of sanity to ourselves in the evening has proven to be the difference between keeping a grip on our sanity and losing our cool completely. We have thoroughly loved our experience at the Garden and its a blessing to have been able to stay here for this really important and emotionally laden week.
Wednesday was by far our toughest day yet. Both boys woke up crabby and frustrated and over this closeness we have. At various points we had meltdowns - epic ones. Joshua's meltdowns included bathroom accidents that had me sitting on a random street corner soaked in urine trying to figure out how to make do with the shorts and shirts we had while still not having the both of us feel completely disgusting! Needless to say our visits to the Six Banyan Temple was not much of a learning experience for us. In the evenings, Joshua still needs Momma to fall asleep - and is not yet feeling Daddy's comfort BUT last night, we pushed him a little bit and he allowed Daddy to fall asleep next to him. Benjamin has been struggling with his patience - the constant priority of his brother - and the lack of "new things" to do has been weighing on him. He has been a tremendous help to us and we are so thankful that we brought him along. BUT he is as ready to leave for home as we are - and he can't wait to see his sisters again.
I am also feeling like I could lose it at any moment. We've had great moments with Joshua that make me feel like we are making so much progress. We also have other moments where I wonder how on earth will I survive the next 6 months ... Joshua likes to babble, constantly. This is great (and not unlike my 4 year old at home) because it means (as a shy guy) that he is comfortable with us. However, I don't understand Mandarin - and sometimes Ben doesn't understand him either. So, we are still left guessing what he is saying. My days are a constantly slew of "MAMA .... MAMA ... (shouted at full volume) followed by "babble babble babble" over and over and over. And it's all completely indecipherable. Additionally, Joshua LOVES testing our limits. He runs EVERYWHERE and he tries something at least 3-4 times (even after we say boo-yaow and let him know it's inappropriate). Each time he tests us to see if the answer is the same, he does so with this giant grin on his face. I have to continuously remind myself that he's learning new rules - not being deliberately defiant. This will be a big part of our new journey together ... learning new rules. I have to patiently teach him our rules and I also have to learn the rules that have made up his reality for the last 4 years. This will be a journey of grace and forgiveness.
Each of these hard lessons has been (thanks be to God) punctuated by moments of brilliance. For brevity's sake I'll bullet them for you :). Truthfully, I wanted this blog post to focus on the real, the hard - it's not all beauty and its not all hugs and love. We'd be remiss if we didn't mention the above pieces of our journey too ... (even know we are dealing with discipline issues that seemingly re-write the playbook on our parenting and its draining to not know when to push and when to give). BUT, we have to remind ourselves that good things are happening too:
1. Joshua said I love you to me (in Mandarin) last night. He repeats it also in English
2. Joshua begs for hugs and kisses almost constantly from me
3. Joshua works on repeating English phrases and has incredible clarity in doing so
4. Joshua LOVES to play - be tickled, to wrestle, and is even frequent with the belly laughs. He loves to have fun!
5. Joshua still eats everything in sight (and doesn't have bathroom issues yet (other than the ones described above)!!!! HOORAY
6. Joshua kisses his sisters via FaceTime. He loves talking to them and seeing them. Hopefully this will make the transition back to a big family of 6 easier.
Areas of focus for all of us:
1. Prayers as we learn how to teach that hitting/kicking/biting isn't okay
2. Wisdom to know proper consequences when consequences must be applied
3. Grace to ourselves and to our children when we all fall short of even minimal standards of decency to each other
4. Traveling mercies
I'm awake again, at 5:15 a.m., it must be a travel day :).
We fly out of Guangzhou at 1:00 a.m EST
We are booked on a flight out of Beijing at 5:40 a.m. EST
Our final connection leaves Detroit at 10:10 p.m. on Friday
It will be a long day, but hopefully, at the end of this day we'll be back in a hotel with closest loved ones and left with many stories and memories to tell - and lots to learn as a family of 6.