Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Momma See

Dear friends, don't be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad - because these trials will make you partners with Christ in His sufferings, and afterward you will have wonderful joy of sharing His glory when it is displayed to all the world.

I Peter 4:12-13

I have a new respect and admiration for every single person who cares for children with special needs. It requires tremendous amounts of persistence, determination, relentlessness, and strength coupled with an unending supply of love and patience. 

I have absolutely no idea how someone could do this job without the Lord's help. 

Fortunately for me, my supply of love and patience ran out a very long time ago, and even the character traits that most people would consider my personal strengths {a strong-willed, determined, never-giving-up spirit) began to wane a long time ago as well.

Fortunately for me. Yes. that's right.

A Mercy. 

A humbling blessing for a prideful, perfectionistic heart.

When I reach the frontier of need and know my limitations, Jesus says - "Blessed are you." But I have to get there. God cannot put into me, a responsible moral being, the disposition that was in Christ Jesus unless I am conscious I need it…

Oswald Chambers

Parenting these two special needs little girls has brought me to my own frontier of need. Caring for their needs and recognizing and accepting their limitations has revealed my own set of needs and limitations. 

And this is mercy. Such great, great mercy.

The learning curve has been steep as we navigate this unchartered territory of parenting special needs children who come from hard places. Our home, although a happy place, in many ways has become a hard place. We have good days. We have bad days. We have hard days, and we have excruciatingly difficult days.

It didn't take long for me to realize that caring for these two - loving these two - is simply beyond me. 

There are catheters every four hours and enemas every other night. Medications in the morning and then more again every night. There are on-going doctors' appointments, therapies that need to be scheduled, decisions to be made about possible surgeries, and many medical unknowns that affect the future of these little girls. Simply caring for their most basic needs is a daunting and overwhelming task, as is the reality that, most likely, neither of them will be ever be able to live independent lives as adults.

But all of this pales in comparison with the responsibility of caring for and loving their wounded and broken hearts. This is the hardest, most difficult, thing I have ever been called to do. Choosing loveAs we take steps toward fostering attachment, building trust, and learning what family is all about, it seems that every single tiny breakthrough is followed by a massive setback. For every one step forward, it feels as if we take five backwards. It's so easy to lose heart, to become frustrated, and to feel like a failure as a momma.

On top of the medical, emotional, and behavioral issues, there is a battle in the spiritual realm over their very lives unlike anything I have ever before experienced. I've shared before my thoughts on the orphanages where they each spent the first six years of their lives. Places of darkness. Enemy territory. Even Faith's orphanage, a "good" one by Bulgarian standards, is an environment that does unspeakable damage to countless children. {Not the people who care for these precious children. There are many good and kind people, doing the absolute best that they can with the limited resources that they have been given, and I will always be incredibly grateful for the men and women I met at Faith Ana's orphanage who genuinely seemed to care for my little girl.} But the bottom line - it's a very, very broken system, and as a result, these are very broken children with very real wounds. I see the lingering effects every single day when I look into the beautiful brown eyes of my Bulgarian girls. There are such deep wounds and so many scars, and it breaks my heart for these two precious little ones and for the many still left behind.

Simply bringing these children into a loving environment, providing the nutrition their little bodies need, the safety and security they have been without, and the love they desperately crave is not enough. Of course, we knew this when we began our adoption journeys. Our expectations were not unrealistic. We knew it would be full of challenges. We knew there would be hard things. We read all about reactive attachment disorder, developmental delays, and the long-term effects of abuse, trauma, and neglect. But nothing could have prepared us for the reality of life with an incredibly wounded child. I've shared before about the spiritual warfare that has surrounded the adoptions of our girls, but what I probably have not shared, what you should know, is that it does not let up once they are finally home. For us, it has only intensified. There are never-ending, on-going attempts by the Enemy to discourage, defeat, and destroy. There are strongholds to be broken, walls that must be torn down, and intense struggles that are constantly being fought. 

These children know suffering in a way that most of us could never comprehend. And we, as their family, have been called to share in these sufferings with them. It is an immensely humbling experience and privilege...

If you are going to be used by God, He will take you through a multitude of experiences that are not meant for you at all; they are meant to make you useful in His hands, and to enable you to understand what transpires in other souls so that you will never be surprised at what you come across…

God's way is always the way of suffering, the way of the long, long trail.

Are we partakers of Christ's sufferings? Are we prepared for God to stamp our personal ambitions right out? Are we prepared for God to destroy by transfiguration our individual determinations?

It will not mean that we know exactly why God is taking us that way…

We never realize at the time what God is putting us through; we go through it more or less misunderstandingly; then we come to a luminous place and say - "Why, God has girded me, though I did not know it!"

Oswald Chambers

The friend who helped my sweet momma care for Sophi, Faith Ana, and Haddon while we went to the beach in September, spoke these words to me after we got home...

I heard your days back from the beach were hard. And the question of was it worth to leave may have entertained a thought or two. I want you to know that I felt so blessed to be able to help Sophia with three of your precious children so you could love on five of your other precious gifts without distraction…

I used to train with a man and his wife who were counselors in a trauma abuse clinic for severely impacted children. Let’s just say the atrocities those kids experienced were beyond nightmares imaginable. I learned so very much about the children and their families from watching this man connect and teach often new foster parents the very hard and daily life that they would endure because they were the parents of these kinds of kids. Children that the world, society, and everyone they would have trusted, had forgotten. And though I was only with them for a year before continuing my own education, I soaked up every bit that I could about working with “those kinds” of kids (and their heartbroken families). After all, it was not supposed to look like this to have to choose to love so HARD every day. EVERY. DAY.

What I learned was that regression to dark places was probably more of the norm than progression to anything that appeared normal. And that small, even minuscule victories were to be celebrated because sometimes it felt like that was all there was. There would be no walks in a park without rages and there were not moments to let your guard down for fear of what might happen. BUT I also learned not to give up hope. That more often than not, those small things turned out to be the really big things that mattered. The structure that had to tirelessly be implemented was the tool to connect (though it so did not feel like it) with the heart of a child.

I have thought about these words so many times lately. October and these first few weeks of November have been full of many ups and downs. And, quite honestly, the "ups" have been so small that if the Lord had not given me eyes to see, I probably would have missed them. Sophi, in particular, has been in a very dark place. Reminiscent of the little girl we first met in the orphanage more than two years ago, I have seen behaviors in her that I have not seen in a very long time. For reason that I don't even begin to understand or know, Sophi continues to struggle. She has days when she is angry and experiences violent outbursts and rages, and then other days, when she cries and fusses for the majority of the day. Other days, she is laughing so hysterically, also for reasons unknown, that she can hardly function. She has days when she in incredibly lethargic, days when the sadness and depression suck the life out of her little body, days when she makes herself physically sick, days when all she wants is to be left in her bed…

Hard, hard days for her. For me. For all of us. 

But sandwiched in between, I have seen glimmers of light. Bright moments. Little victories

Sophi has been interacting with Haddon, more so than she has ever done with any of the other kids.

She is beginning to recognize the letters in her name.

She attempts to count to five and can count to two using her fingers.

She can sort blocks by color and sometimes can even say their name when prompted.

During our morning school time, I recently added a few new activities - new puzzles that Sophi hated. But after a week or two of great resistance {and very loud screaming}, she finally mastered them and now can do them with minimal assistance.

We've been able to get out of the house a few times. We've gone for walks. We've gone to the grocery store. We've gone to Target. Sophi even tagged along with me to a few of Faith Ana's doctors' appointments, and in all these outings, she did great.

She's been accident free almost a week {until today, oh dear, I spoke too soon}.

Little victories that could very easily get lost in the midst of the very big challenges that we face every single day.

And as the Lord opens my eyes and strengthens my heart, as He equips me, and as He fills me with fresh and unending supplies of His love and patience, I begin to see:

These little things aren't so little.

They are big, big, big victories.

I just needed new perspective. 
I needed special and unique lenses for my special and unique girls.

Faith Ana got glasses this week, and I loved seeing her reaction when she put on her new glasses for the first time.

Faith Ana see. 

It's what she immediately said, and it was such a sweet and priceless moment.

And it made a difference. 

A big difference. 

She noticed things, especially the little things, that before she had missed. 

She was more alert, more aware, more focused, and more engaged. And she liked her new glasses. She liked the little girl that she saw in the mirror. She liked how her new glasses looked, and she liked how her new lenses helped her. The tasks that had been hard and challenging were suddenly much simpler. For example, she used to struggle during book time. Often her books were turned upside down, and she quickly lost interest and got bored. 

She could see the big pictures, the big things, but it wasn't until she put her glasses on that she was able to see all of the little details. 

She has spent the majority of the past few days naming every single letter and number that she recognizes on every single thing that she sees. She has loved looking at her books and pointing out all the little things that she is finally able to see. It really is remarkable. 

As much as they are helping, though, I'm sure you can imagine all of the reminders she has needed to leave her new glasses on. It's hard work for her to learn to wear them. The glasses are probably a tad bit uncomfortable, and for her it's something new and very unfamiliar. I remember {not that long ago} when I put sunglasses on her for the first time, and she was terrified. She hated them, but slowly she realized that they were a good thing. They helped her to see when we would go for walks in the bright Bulgarian sunshine. She no longer had to squint or use her hands to shield her eyes on our many adventures in Sofia. She learned to love them, and I'm confident that she will become more and more accustomed to her new glasses in the same way. Right now, she tends to push them down on her nose, like someone wearing bifocals. {The boys say she looks like a little librarian.} And we are all having to constantly encourage her to look up and to look through her new lenses

Another learning curve. 

So many learning curves for these sweet girls. So many learning curves for this momma. 

My dear sweet girl,

Faith Ana, I understand. I see joy in your big brown eyes because you can see clearly. But I also see the frustration. It's good to be able to see, but it's equally hard because you are so used to the way things used to be. Joy and frustration. I know them both so very well.

I understand. Or better said, the Lord is helping me to understand. He's helping me to understand how to see you and your sister more clearly, to see your limitations, to celebrate your victories. Even the little ones. Especially the little ones. And to understand that these little victories aren't really so little after all. They are huge!

I understand because I have my own new set of lenses that I'm trying to get accustomed to. A new perspective. A new way to look at you girls. Really, a new way to look at all you children. And I like it. I like that I am finally beginning to notice all of the little things that I missed before. I think it's helping me be a better Momma, and I am so grateful. He's helping my eyes {and my heart}, and it's making a difference for me just as your new glasses are making a difference for you!

But also like you, I find myself countless times throughout the day pulling my new lenses off, and looking at things the old way. Thankfully, we both have someone to help remind us. I'm here for you, to tell you how pretty you look with your new glasses on, to gently encourage you to leave them on, to remind you to look through your new lenses. And He's here for me (for all of us), telling me the same things I'm telling you. Look up, dear one. Look up to Me. Remember, sweet child, you have to look through your new lenses to see most clearly. And, Faith Ana, we are both getting the hang of it. Day by day, we are learning to see, and this is such a beautiful thing.

Just as your new prescription is best suited for your beautiful eyes, so my new prescription is most suitable for me...

For these circumstances, these days, this season.

For you two girls - Faith Ana and Sophi, each with your multitude of special needs. 

For all you children - Web, Palmer, Hank, Barrett, Evie, and Haddon, each with your own unique and special gifts and personalities. 

For the whole bunch of us - dog, cat, and myriad of fish, frogs, and lizards included {for which I have delegated the sole responsibility of their care and well-being into the capable hands of your father}...

Oh Lord, have mercy.

And, He is!   <<<big smile>>>   He is so incredibly merciful! 

Full of grace and patience, endless supplies of love and ample strength for all that is hard. And, Faith Ana, you and I both know, there is much that is hard. But there is also much that is good. Much that is beautiful. Much to be celebrated. Much to be seen. 

So much to be seen.

And, as always, the hard is good. These hard tasks, these afflictions, these sufferings, although so minuscule compared to what others around the world are experiencing just now, are producing for us an eternal weight of glory. Something more beautiful, more wonderful than we have ever seen, or imagined, or even dreamed of.

What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.

Hebrews 11:1

Lord, help this momma to see. To see beauty in the pain. Glory in the hard. Joy in the suffering. Help me to see You in all things. Help me to see all things as You see. And, help me to have hope for all that I cannot yet see…


P.S. And just in case you need a good laugh... 

This child is hilarious!

And she loves to dance!

{Ignore the sound of the paper cutter in the background. The boys were getting into the Christmas spirit a tad early this year and spent the afternoon making ornaments and paper chains.}

The song Faith Ana is dancing to. I think it's her favorite! :)

In His kindness, 

God called you to His eternal glory by means of Jesus Christ.

After you have suffered a little while, He will restore, support, and

strengthen you, and He will place you on a firm foundation

All power is His forever and ever.

I Peter 5:10-11

Saturday, October 18, 2014

endurance {and when grace abounds}

You look at the weather-beaten sailor, the man who is at home on the sea: he has a bronzed face and mahogany-coloured flesh, he looks as tough as heart of oak, and as hardy as if he were made of iron. How different from us poor landsmen. 

How did the man become so inured to hardship, so able to breast the storm, so that he does not care whether the wind blows south-west or north-west? 

He can go out to sea in any kind of weather; he has his sea legs on: how did he come to this strength? 

By doing business in great waters. 

He could not have become a hardy seaman by tarrying on shore. Now, trial works in the saints that spiritual hardihood which cannot be learned in ease. 

You may go to school for ever, but you cannot learn endurance there

you may colour your cheek with paint, but you cannot give it that ingrained brown which comes of stormy seas and howling winds. 

Strong faith and brave patience come of trouble

and a few men in the church who have thus been prepared are worth anything in times of tempest. 

To reach that condition of firm endurance and sacred hardihood is worth all the expense of all the heaped-up troubles that ever come upon us from above or from beneath. 

When trial worketh patience we are incalculably enriched. 

The Lord give us more of this choice grace. As Peter's fish had the money in its mouth, so have sanctified trials spiritual riches for those who endure them graciously.

Charles Spurgeon

We had a wonderful time at the beach a few weeks ago. As I was looking back at our pictures today, I couldn't help but smile as I remembered how much fun we all had. Our time away was truly a gift on so many different levels, and I am so thankful…

I am also so very, very grateful to my mom and a sweet friend who stayed here at home with Sophi, Faith Ana, and Haddon. I struggled with the decision to leave them, especially Sophi with her multitude of behavioral and attachment issues, and also Faith Ana, since she's only been home for such a very short time. And my sweet boy Haddon! I hated leaving our littlest guy behind.

But as I've shared openly and transparently about our ongoing struggles with Sophi, the Lord has been impressing several things on my heart…

First, He's been teaching me all about endurance. I'm learning what this word means and especially how it applies to parenting special needs kids. These past few months have definitely called for an endurance unlike anything I've ever experienced...

But more than just enduring these trying days, my heart's desire is to learn to endure them with a graciousness and a patience that can only come from above. It certainly doesn't come from within. There's no telling how many times I have said this over the past few years, and I'm sure the Lord will continue to teach me this lesson many times in the days ahead: That hard is good, and I'm finding it true all over again. These hard things have uncovered so much about my own heart. Namely, my own pride and my self sufficiency. And I know this is a mercy. I'm so grateful for how the Lord is using these things to humble me as I learn to acknowledge my need for help. He's reminding me that to be able to walk through these challenging days with endurance, He must be my source and my strength. To give grace, I must receive grace. To be able to effectively and graciously love and care for these children, especially these two little girls with such profound needs, it is vitally important for me to take time to take care of myself. The past few months have made me realize how very important rest and renewal are for my soul. And the timing of this trip couldn't have been more perfect. I was drowning and didn't even realize it. I needed a chance to catch my breath and how grateful I am that I was able to listen to the Lord's gentle nudgings {and my boys vehement pleadings} and be able to spend five full days with five of my most favorite little people in the whole world. Of course, I was glad to have their Daddy tag along, too!

Our days were lively and full. We woke up early, stayed up late, and spent most of our time down on the beach kayaking, fishing, building sand castles, and going on adventures. It wasn't exactly restful, but spending time simply playing with these precious little people did my heart so much good. The Lord used those days to renew my heart, refresh my spirit, and remind me how much fun it is being a momma. I am one very blessed woman.

Sophi and Faith Ana did extremely well while we were away. Sophi had her moments, but both girls asked for MaMa and DaDa often, which, of course, is a healthy and encouraging sign. I fully expected Sophi to struggle when we got back home, so it didn't come as a surprise to see her angry, confused, and defiant. She has re-tested boundaries in ways that she hasn't done in a long, long time and regressed again with her potty-training. Once again, I feel like I'm in the middle of stormy {and stinky} seas as I struggle to care for and love this precious daughter of ours.

I'm asking the Lord for sea legs. I'm asking Him to work brave patience, strong faith, and firm endurance into every fiber of my being right now. I'm asking Him to fill my heart with compassion and love. To give me strength for what's hard, to provide rest when I'm weary, to fill me with hope when I'm discouraged, and to shine His light when all I see is darkness. I'm asking Him for wisdom and direction in several specific areas issues relating to Sophi. And not a day goes by that I don't find myself on my knees asking for forgiveness for the many ways I blow it, which I do quite often. It's so easy for hard days to make a hard heart…

Parenting this child {and all these children} is very much doing business in deep waters. It's exhausting. It's draining. It's an overwhelming responsibility, and sometimes it's just plain scary. And I know it's not just me. Parenting, in general, is hard work. It doesn't matter whether you have eight children or only one, healthy kids or girls like mine with special needs. Parenting is not for the faint of heart.  

There are days when I feel like I'm barely keeping my head above the water. Days when I long to be like the "weather beaten sailor" Spurgeon talked about in his sermon, at home in deep and rough waters, but by the end of the day, I just feel plain beat. Worn out and worn down. Maybe I endured the day's challenges, but I certainly wouldn't call it gracious endurance.

My words often come out louder, quicker, and harsher than I intend. I fuss too much or discipline too severely. My spirit is too critical or my standard too high. It's such a temptation to focus on little people's faults instead of celebrating their victories. This is especially true when parenting kids who came from hard places. The victories are often so small that if my eyes aren't open and my radar isn't up, I'll blink and miss an opportunity to speak the words of affirmation and blessing that I know these children so desperately need. 

Yesterday was one of those days. Just as Sophi struggles to use her words, tonight I am struggling to find words of my own to adequately describe how hard that day really was. Unpleasant, miserable, and stinky don't do it justice. And I'm not talking about her accidents or her behavior. I'm talking about my own heart.

When this very long and tiring day finally came to an end and all the little bodies were tucked in their beds {minus the two who were at the beach again with their grandparents}, I knew it was time to lay my heart bare before my Father. Of course, He knows it all without my saying, but nonetheless I told Him about my hard words and my critical spirit and even worse, my hard heart.

And can I tell you what He said? It was so simple, but so, so perfect...

Grace abounds in deepest waters.

The words come from a song I must have listened to ten thousand or so times when I was flying over the middle of the ocean on my way to Bulgaria to pick up Faith Ana earlier this summer. Words that the Lord used to strengthen and encourage my heart when I was alone, overwhelmed, and anxious. When I wondered what in the world I was doing, these words gave me direction.

The same was true for me last night. When I wondered what in the world I was doing and especially when I wondered how in the world I would be able to keep doing it, those words were the truth that my overwhelmed heart needed to hear. Like a light blinking brightly on top of a lighthouse, the words from that song, His words to my heart, pointed me to Him. To Grace. 

Parenting special needs kids {parenting any kids} without giving grace to them {and to myself} will ultimately lead to disaster. 

When I run into those rocks and hard places that otherwise would have shipwrecked me, grace protects me

When the the storm is raging {or the child is raging}, grace keeps me anchored

When I have no energy left and I feel myself being pulled under by exhaustion and hopelessness, grace keeps me afloat

When I've tried so hard and everything that I can possibly think of has failed and I no longer know which direction to take, grace is always the way to go

Grace is the lifeline I must hold on to as I'm doing business in these great waters, being a momma to all these precious little people

Praise the Lord, His grace is sufficient. That in my weakness, He is strong. That through my failures, He brings about good. That in all these things that are hard, even when it's my own heart that is the hardest of all, His grace abounds. 

And can I share with you one more thing? This morning when I woke up, His mercies were new. Miracle mercies. My heart was softened toward this sweet girl and I had my sea legs on, prepared for whatever the day might bring. I was expecting stormy weather {and stinky smells}, but the Lord surprised me. Sophi had one of the best days she's had in over four months. No rages. No tantrums. No accidents. In fact, the only time I had to correct her was because she was laughing so loud I was afraid she was going to wake up the baby.

Today I had a chance to catch my breath and when I did, I breathed in deeply His grace. It was a good day, and I'm so thankful for His faithfulness to answer our prayers and for His grace that abounds in deep waters.

Praise the Lord!
For He has heard my cry for mercy.
The Lord is my strength, my shield from every danger.
I trust Him with all my heart.
He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy…

Psalm 28:6-7


P.S. And just for the fun of it, I'm going to include a few more of my favorite pictures from our trip...