Saturday, November 15, 2014

Bedtime Lesson

It's been so long since I've blogged. I've actually started referring to my May/June trip to Ethiopia as "the trip that killed my blog." I still can't adequately process the thoughts and emotions that I experienced, and there's a little part of me that wonders if I'll ever really be able to. If I'm not writing about that, I ask myself, what's the point of writing about anything else? Except that maybe I need to write some things down to remember them later. Things like what happened tonight.

We've been going through a rough season with Sintay for the last few weeks. I don't know exactly what has set it off this time (although I do have some educated guesses), but suffice it to say he has been difficult. He is testing every single thing we say, and I do not react well to that. Add in the fact that I've been sick with a doozy of a sinus infection this week, and we could just chalk this week up under "disaster." Battling with this little dude day in and day out brings to light some serious ugliness in my own heart. Lack of patience? Check. Lack of mercy and grace? Check. Lack of temperance, meekness, love and joy? Check. I may have called David at work one day sobbing that "I can't do this right now!" I may have lost my temper more often than not with one exceedingly whiny, angry little boy. I finally asked for some extra prayer cover from a couple of people and that has helped significantly. (Why oh WHY is that EVER a "finally" moment for me?)

Today, I had the privilege of attending a "women's retreat" at a friend's house. The topic was "Controlling Our Thoughts," and oh my, was it EXACTLY what I needed to hear right now. So much good stuff. So much affirmation that I'm not the only one who battles the lies that Satan tries to feed us. So much conviction over areas where I seriously need to do some work....taking every thought (and action) captive to the obedience of Christ. I came away energized and encouraged and thankful.

Then came bedtime. Ugh. Every night, for the last few weeks, bedtime has been a battleground. Yikealo and Sintayehu share a room, and they fight over....well....pretty much everything. If one of them wants the light off, the other one wants it on. If one of them wants the closet door closed, the other one wants it open. They fight over who gets to pray first, and who gets to fetch the Bible that we're reading together, and who's going to hold the bookmark while we read. (Seriously, guys?) We have made rules out of the most ridiculous things, because we don't feel like taking the time to deal with the underlying issues of selfishness and unloving behavior. (Fine! On the odd days of the month, Yikealo prays first. On the even days, Sintayehu prays first. Whoever prays last gets to choose who they lay beside during snuggle time.) In case you're wondering, that doesn't really work either....because soon they're just fighting about the rules instead of what the rules were intended to cover.

So tonight, after all of the pre-bed rigamarole, we tucked them into their beds. David left for a meeting at church, and I went to the kitchen to catch up on three days worth of dishes. I heard lots of kicking and arguing from the bedroom, so I went to lay down the law. "Sintayehu, GET BACK IN BED! Stop climbing up the ladder to bug your brother. I DO NOT want to hear another sound out of this room!"

About 3 minutes later, Yikealo was out in the kitchen. "Mom, he keeps kicking my bed!" I told Yikealo to go lay down in our bed, at which point Sintay started fussing that "It's not fair!" I told him it was his own fault, and he had better not get out of bed again.

10 minutes later, Sintay was out in the kitchen asking if he could close the closet door. Seriously? Just close the door, for crying out loud! Why do you need to walk all the way out here to ask if you can close your own closet? I closed his door, tucked him back into bed, gave him his "special" kiss....the one that helps him to not be afraid, and went back to the kitchen.

15 minutes later, my quiet thoughts were interrupted with "MOM!!"       (Pause)     "MOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!!!!!!!!"  I head back to the bedroom again. "What do you want, Sintayehu? You are seriously pushing your luck, Bud!" S: "Ummmmmmmm.......I think I heard somebody knocking." Me: "No, you didn't. I am out in the kitchen, right by both doors. Nobody knocked. Everything is fine. You are so tired, Mommy is very close by, nothing is going to happen to you. What is wrong?" S: "I don't know." Me: "Okay, why don't we pray together. The Bible says that perfect love makes fear go away. Do you believe that God loves you? (yes) Do you believe that Mommy loves you? (yes) Okay, than let's pray that God will take the fear away." We prayed together and I headed back to the kitchen.

20 minutes later, Sintayehu nearly made me jump out of my skin when he sneaked up behind me and grabbed my leg. I definitely yelled this time, "WHAT DO YOU WANT???" S: "I'm scared!" (Well so am I now!) I marched him back to bed, moved a soundly sleeping Yikealo from my bed back to his own, and told Sintayehu, "Okay! Your brother is back in your room, he is sleeping, and you had BETTER NOT wake him up! BE QUIET AND GO TO SLEEP!!!" His lip quivered and he squeezed his eyes shut, and I stomped out and closed the door.

And promptly felt terrible. Larisa Joy, who cares if the dishes wait one more day? Your child may be irritating at times, but he is actively seeking a connection with you right now, and you are repeatedly turning him away. Just go hold him. I walked back to Sintay's bed, and asked if he'd like me to rock him for a little bit. He'd been pretending to be sleeping, but when I said the word "rock," he practically threw himself into my arms. I walked out to the living room, sat down in the rocking chair, and wrapped him in a blanket, cuddling him close. He was sound asleep in 3 minutes. I stayed right there for another 10, praying over him, feeling his exhausted little body twitch into deep sleep, watching his lips make the little sucking motions that I imagine are left-over from when he nursed with his birth mom. Why did I almost miss this? Why didn't I try this first? It would have saved both of us a lot of frustration.

I am thankful that God's not finished with me yet. I am thankful for do-overs....and it seems like I need many of them every day. And....there's always tomorrow night!

Monday, June 30, 2014


Yesterday was the 5 year anniversary of the day we met and took custody of Yikealo. I am so grateful for the way that God has knit us together over the last five years. We had fun reminiscing yesterday about those early days together. Both of my boys love to hear their stories, and we tend to mark special days by telling them again about how they came to our family.....celebrating the good after the hard.

Today is my 39th birthday, and also happens to be the day that I've been married as long as I was single. I was 19 and a half when we got married, and it has been 19 and a half years since our wedding. (It's kind of easy to measure time in halves when your birthday is exactly half way through the year and your anniversary is on January 1st!)

How in the world did we get from here....

to here?

Or even more so, from here....

to here....

to here?

Where in the world has the time gone? It all seems like yesterday in some ways, and yet I can't remember much more about our life before Yikealo than I can remember about my life before David. I'm amazed that two things I didn't think I wanted (marriage and children) have enriched, fulfilled and completed me in such a way that I can no longer imagine what I was thinking before. I am loving my life more than ever, and I'm so thankful that God isn't finished with me or my relationships yet!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Seeking Normal Again

The last month and a half has been a little out of control. We rushed to finish school a month early, and managed to get it all completed on May 10th. On the 11th, we attended the baptism of our nephew Jason, and then left immediately for an 11 hour drive down to Isle of Palms, South Carolina. David had business in Charleston that week, and he took two extra days so that we could make it a week-long vacation. We returned home late on the evening of May 18th, and then I had a week to pack, buy little gifts for the boys, repack tubs of donations, get together such necessities as mosquito repellant, anti-bacterial wipes, flashlights and malaria medicine for my nine-day trip to Ethiopia. I left for Ethiopia on May 26th, returned on June 3rd, spent the next three days sleeping, frantically unpacking, doing laundry and repacking, and we left on the afternoon of the 6th for our every-four-years Ocean Isle vacation with David's family.

We've had a great time, but life has been out-of-order for way too long. Combine that with trauma-versary time, and we have a perfect storm for Mr. Sintay. He is frustrated, and unhappy, and whiny to the extreme. He throws temper tantrums like we haven't seen in awhile. Yesterday when I told him to stop hanging on the fridge door, he went into his bedroom, slammed the door, screamed bloody-murder for about 10 minutes while heaving everything he could get his hands on. He's mouthy, and impertinent, and he hid under the bench on Sunday rather then walk into the Sunday school class that he's been attending for a year and a half. He bursts into tears at the drop of a hat. He kicked the back of my seat for 7.5 hours while yawning hugely but refusing to take a nap in the van on Saturday. This picture that Susan unwittingly snapped on vacation last week just perfectly sums up our relationship at the moment:
The thing that I can't allow myself to forget in these moments is that trauma has real, lasting effects. Two years ago this week everything changed again for my little guy. He saw his birth mama for the last time and said a final goodbye to her. Five days later, we took custody of him, and nothing was ever the same again. A friend told me awhile back that she learned in college that memory is actually stored in every cell of our body, not just in our brains. Smells, seasons, sights, sounds, etc can trigger physical pain that mimics the pain we felt when we experienced trauma. My children's bodies KNOW when we've hit a painful anniversary....even if their minds have no concept of the time of year. This isn't something that Sintayehu can master on his own, and this is a child that struggles with impulse control at the best of times. I need to constantly remind myself to have a little more patience right now, to be a little more loving and understanding.
The good news is that we have a long (hopefully uneventful) summer stretching out in front of us. At the moment we have very few plans scheduled. We have stacks of books from the library to read together, puzzles to work on, and games to play. We have extra time for snuggles, and popsicles, eating fresh strawberries, collecting bugs, and playing with Legos on the driveway with the neighbor kids. We remind him that we are a family, that no matter how rough of a day we've had, he is loved beyond measure. We aren't going anywhere, and neither is he. There are constructive ways to handle grief and frustration, and we are modeling what those are. We've been here before. This is not new territory for us. Slowly, slowly, things will come back into focus...and we will hold onto the good moments, which begin to happen more and more often. Peace is coming just takes a little more time....and time is one thing we have.

Monday, April 7, 2014

My Little Writer

Yikealo recently had to write an experience story for the writing composition portion of his Language Arts class. He chose to write about being adopted, and I thought I'd share his finished story....a look back at adoption through the eyes of a 2nd grader!

My Adoption

 "I was born in Ethiopia to a poor mom in a northern village. My mom could not work because she has leprosy. My brother and I sold sticks for money. When I was around three my mom could not take care of me any more because I was too big to be nursed. She took me to the orphanage. I was terrified when she left me with strangers, and I sobbed when she walked away.

Some men from the orphanage moved me to Hannah's Hope, a transition home in Addis Ababa, about 500 miles away from where I had lived. I felt sad and scared, but the people there were nice. Almaz, the director, spoke my language of Tigrinya, which made me feel safer. She also gave me toy cars to play with.

One day a man and woman came to Hannah's Hope and played with me. They looked bizarre with their glasses and pale skin. Almaz said, "This is your new mom and dad. They are going to take you to America with them on a plane. Wwwweeeeee!"

I was frightened when I met the odd new people. Then they took me to a hotel. I missed the special mothers at Hannah's Hope, and I was afraid to go to bed in a strange place. Who were these people? Why wouldn't they take me back to my own bed?

A good night's sleep made all the difference though. The next morning I was happy to see them and kissed them all over their faces. Then a couple days later I got on a plane and went to America.

When I got there I was fearful of everything, but soon I got used to things. I learned to speak English, and before long I loved my new home and family. Being adopted was hard, but I learned that when things fall apart, God can turn it into something wonderful."
 This was one of the first looks that he gave us on the day he met us. In so many of those early photos, even the happy, smiley ones, I can see the frightened distrust in his eyes.
For weeks after we got home with him, we got looks like this.....and let's be honest....I got the glares far more often than David did!

One note, lest any of you think my 7 year old is a budding genius....this bit of writing is the end result of two weeks of writing lessons, which included drafting, proofreading, using a thesaurus, and checking a dictionary for spelling errors. I don't mean to detract in any way from his finished product, however, because the thoughts are entirely his, and I was so pleased with him for taking on such a tough topic. I absolutely loved his conclusion and the way he is showing so much maturity in his thinking.

Along with that, one of his totally unprompted journal topics last week melted my heart: "My best freind is Jesus. He's the freind that everone needs. He forgives those who do evil and sin. All those who believe enter Heaven. He heals the sick and loves. He also died for our sins. What friend could do more?"

I'm in awe of how far we've come in the last five years. I really love this kid, and I am so proud of who he is becoming.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Nothin' to See Here.....

During one college class, I had to write a 10 page paper, and as is fairly typical for me, I procrastinated. The night before it was due, I was humming along around midnight, working on the beginning of page 7, thinking to myself, "I should easily be done by 1:30 or so and will still get a decent night's sleep!" The thought made me gleefully swing my leg back and forth a few times....which caused me to accidentally kick off the power source to the computer.  I was using a very old word processing program that didn't automatically save anything, and I hadn't saved my work since page 2. was a sickening of those moments where your mind is racing frantically to come up with an alternative to what you KNOW just happened. Needless to say, I did not get any sleep that night, as I finished my paper up about an hour before I needed to leave for school.

Last night I had a similar situation. I've been cutting my guys' hair for over a year now, with really no mishaps to date. David's style has taken a little longer to perfect than the boys', but we finally have our system in place. He reminded me around 9:30 last night that I had promised to cut his hair. I groaned....I was so tired, and I had a splitting headache....but I headed to the bathroom and got out the clippers and the three attachments that we use. I laid them out on the counter in the order that I would need them. As David sat down, I grabbed the clippers and took the first big swipe up the right side of his head.....and immediately realized that I'd forgotten to put the #6 attachment on. Ugh. I felt exactly the same way that I had 16 years ago when the computer shut off. That instantaneous horror and the fervent wishing that there was some way to get the last few seconds back.

Maybe it's not so bad. Maybe there is some way out where nobody has to notice that I really made a mistake. Maybe, just maybe, I can change everything else around the problem and nobody will notice what I did.

Nope. Well... maybe, just maybe I can cover it up so that nobody notices

This just isn't working. Maybe the only thing I can do is expose the problem for all to see, acknowledge that it was my fault, and trust that things will grow back right.

(Thankfully, I have an awesome husband who really doesn't care what anyone else thinks about him or his hair, and has mostly tried to make me laugh about all of this.)

The last 24 hours have got me thinking about sin. Sometimes we're tired. Sometimes we're doing things we don't want to do at times we don't want to do them. Sometimes the demands others place on our time is more than we can handle. Sometimes losing focus for a second can result in unimaginably difficult consequences.

Worse yet, some things don't get fixed automatically by time. There are areas in my life where I need to pull back and think hard about the consequences. I am a perfectionist by nature....which can lead me to be overly critical about a good many things. I can usually put on a decent front for people and hide the sarcastic, withering, reproachful side of my personality inside where the public doesn't see it. My family, though, gets the real deal. I'm with my kids all day long, and on the days when school isn't going so well, or the boys aren't focused enough, or their room looks like a toy factory exploded, I can be WAY too harsh. Words can hurt, and time alone isn't going to heal those wounds.

So after we've messed up.... what now? Are we going to pretend nothing is wrong? Are we going to tidy up the rest of our lives and hope that nobody notices? Are we going to hide the mess so nobody else sees it? The thing is....they DO notice....and so does God. The only way to put things right again is to own what we've done and repent. Sometimes that means rooting out the weeds that have been planted and starting over completely with a blank slate.

Otherwise, the only one that we're fooling is ourself.

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." I John 1:9

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Sintay's "Bible" Story

When David is lying down with the boys at night, and they want a story, he gives them a series of choices:
“Old or New Testament?”

If Old: “Patriarchs or Prophets?”

If New: “Jesus or the Apostles?”

Then finally, “What they said or what they did?”

Once the boys have selected their formula of choice, David does a fantastic job of bringing a Bible story down to their level. The boys love it, and I do too. I’ve been amazed at how many times he makes me realize something that I’ve never thought of before out of a familiar old story.

Tonight, Sintayehu was clearly trying to stall after we said it was time to go to sleep and tried his hand at it:

S: “Kahlo, you want New Tessamint or Possles?”

Y: “Old Testament”

S: “K….Jesus or what ‘er writes or what ‘er dids?”

Y: (giggling) “What he wrote.”

S: “K. Ummmm…..Peter, James and John….ummmm…..went to da beach. Guess what ‘er sawed?”

Me: “The Sea of Galilee?”

David: “Lots of fishes?”

Y: “Boats?”

S: “No. A volcano.” (Much hilarity from Yikealo.) “And nen, dey went in and guess what else ‘er sawed? A bear! A big one! Ummmm….and Peter, James, and John cutted him on da neck. And nen, dey couldn’t get out of da volcano. So dey got a umbrella, and dey went up and up and up and up and nen went on da beach again. Den guess what ‘er sawed? Anudder bear! A little one….a cute one. De end.”

Funny….I don’t remember that story at all! ;-)


Saturday, January 25, 2014

"They're So Lucky" and Other Fallacies

This post has been on my heart for some time. People say some frustrating things to adoptive families, and while I understand that many times they don't mean exactly what we hear, sometimes they make us pause and think about lecturing on poverty and orphan issues and scripture. Most of the time I am able to give some grace and avoid the harsh words that well up inside of me, but I'm going to take a moment and address a few of my personal trigger points.

* "They're so lucky!" said with beaming smiles directed at my boys, usually after someone finds out that they were originally from Ethiopia. Right, because now they're part of a middle-class family in the "promised land" of America, rather than living a VERY hard hand-to-mouth existence in a third-world country. I get what they're saying. Yet somehow that statement negates the horror and the pain and the trauma that my children have experienced. Let's say that you know a family where one of the parents dies suddenly while the children are very young. Would you EVER look at the remaining members of the family and comment, "You're so lucky!"?? Probably not....because you can see the hard place that they're walking through, and commenting on the fact that at least they're still living would seem incredibly insensitive. My boys lost a very young age. They lost the only family members they had ever known, their beautiful country, their language and their cultural heritage. Sure we try to keep some of this alive for them, but the losses are real, and heart-wrenching, and painful. Both of my boys fondly remember very loving mothers, and their hearts know that just because they've been provided with another family and all of the trappings of a life in America, the pain of that loss doesn't go away. They've endured hardship that no child should ever have to face, and to call that "lucky" just feels so wrong to me.

*"You were always God's Plan A for them!" Just. Don't. This is simply not true. Adoption is a beautiful thing, and I'm so incredibly thankful for it, but adoption only exists because we live in a broken world. It was never God's first plan in any sense of the word. God's original plan is that every child would be born to a loving family that could afford to feed them and care for them. God's Plan A was the Garden of Eden, but we messed that up a long time ago. In fact, sin ruined everything, and it is only because of sin that adoption is necessary. God's mighty hand involved? Absolutely! I see adoption as His redemption of a hard situation. It's similar to salvation in so many ways, and one of those ways is the fact that neither adoption nor salvation would exist in a perfect world. In a perfect world, we wouldn't have disobeyed God in the first place, and salvation wouldn't have happened because God never would've had to sacrifice His only son on our behalf. Adoption wouldn't be necessary either, because no family would be experiencing poverty or disease or the heartache of broken or sinful relationships. God did not make a mistake and accidentally cause my children to be born to women on the other side of the world, all the while intending them for me. They ARE my children today, but they are also the children of beautiful Ethiopian women, and I will not cheapen the pain of the loss of those first mothers by saying that Yikealo and Sintayehu were "always" meant to be with us.

*"Now, do you have any children of your own?" Yes, we do....two of them....and their names are Yikealo and Sintayehu. I realize that what you meant to ask was if we have "biological" children, but please do not refer to MY children as if they are not MY OWN. Because they much as if I had carried them inside my own body. I am the one who teaches them, who feeds them, who gets up with them in the night when they've had a bad dream, who spends every day loving them and caring for them. I would give my life for them. I am their mother, and the fact that they each have another woman that they also refer to as "Mommy" does not lessen our relationship. You see, adoption counts. If it didn't, then we would have no hope of Heaven. God is our ADOPTIVE Father, and He refers to us as His children. It is because of adoption that we are allowed to call Him "Abba" (Daddy or Papa). If adoption was a lesser relationship, then why in the world would God have sent His ONLY BEGOTTEN SON to rescue the rest of us? How could we refer to Jesus as our Brother? Adoption makes a family....a real, completely valid family.

*"I just don't think I could ever love an adopted child as much as I love my own kids." Ummmm....yeah. So, you're saying that you're incapable of loving someone that you didn't carry inside your womb? What about your parents? Siblings? Grandparents? Oh, maybe you're saying that you can't really love anyone who is not related to you by blood? So, what exactly does that mean for your spouse? Or what about the close friends with whom you share everything? Are you honestly trying to start a "I love my kids more than you love yours" argument? Why would you say something like that? Granted, I can't really comment on how it feels to love a biological child, but sometimes when I look at my boys I feel like my heart is going to explode from being too full. I can't imagine my life without them, and I will do anything to let them know how much I love them. Since I firmly believe that all true love comes from God anyway, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is able to create the deepest feelings of devotion between a parent and a child, no matter how their family was formed. Remember, adoption counts.

*"So the women over there must not love their children that much, huh?" SERIOUSLY?? To make things even worse, variations of this question have been asked IN FRONT OF my kids! Are you kidding me? How dare you sit in your ivory-tower-existence and make judgements about how much someone loves her child just because she chooses an adoption plan! She is living a life that you can't even imagine. She grieves her losses every single day, and oh yeah....she's also got a debilitating disease, or she's lost the husband that she dearly loved to a horrific accident, and she's got no education and has very few job prospects. I thank God that we've been able to have contact with both of our boys' birth mothers, and the first thing that they want their children to know is how much they are loved.

Almost two year ago, when we were in Ethiopia for Sintayehu's court case, we met with a man who had just interviewed Yikealo's birth mom. We had just left Sintayehu at Hannah's Hope earlier that day, and had no idea when we'd be able to return for him. I was grieving at the thought of not seeing my son for several months, and all of a sudden we were looking at photos of Yikealo's first mother, who hadn't seen her son in 3 years. We learned some hard things about how difficult her life is, and that night was probably the most emotionally overwhelming of my life so far. Later on the plane, I remember sobbing....for hours....while paging through photograph after photograph. I started listening to music, and the first song that played summed my feeling up so well.

"Why this happened I cannot explain,
Why write the script with such heartache and pain?
Could there not have been an easier way?
Watching life through this glass so faded,
I cannot see the bigger picture taking place....
Oh to understand one day!

And my heart will fly
When I finally see You face to face
And my tears will fly away, away.

Won't be long 'til we all go home
With all things revealed,
And on that day we'll finally know,
Oh, as we are fully known.

And what appears as incomplete,
Is still completely Yours,
And one day we'll see as we've been seen, and we'll soar.
(Mercy Me)

I will probably never hear that song again without crying. It's so true. The script of my boys' lives has been written with unimaginable heartache and pain, but also with unimaginable beauty. They are deeply, deeply loved....each of them by two different families in two different countries.

A few weeks ago, the boys and I were doing some shopping when Sintayehu spotted this figurine. He pointed excitedly and said, "Look! It's me and my Mommy Alem!! Mom, PLEASE get it for me? Please??" How could I resist that? She now sits on our bookcase between the photos of the boys with their beloved first mamas. On the hard days, when Sintay's been fussy and frustrating and acting out, I will often find him sitting down in a chair, clutching her to him and petting her softly with that far-away look in his eyes. We talk about Mommy Alem, and how much she loves him, and how much we love him too. I tell him that I'm so sorry that he lost his first mama, but that I'm so glad that I get the chance to be his mama too. I tell him that it's okay to be sad, it's okay to be angry, and it's okay to cry. Having a new family doesn't erase the pain, but hopefully we are giving him a safe, loving place to express it.