Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Transforming Power of a Family

I wrote this last week, but decided to wait until after Sunday to publish it. Some of the people who read my blog go to our church, and I didn't want the whole thing to be a repeat for them.

As many of you know, November is National Adoption Month here in America, and many churches choose one Sunday in November to be Orphan Sunday or Adoption Sunday. They dedicate some portion of the service to celebrating the miracle of adoption and encouraging members to follow God's command to minister to the orphans in our world. Greg and I have been able to participate in several Adoption Sunday services this year in a very small way. This coming Sunday, November 17th, is the Sunday that our church has chosen, and Greg and I each get to give a brief talk as part of the service. As I have been rolling my talk around in my head, I came to realize that it would make a pretty good blog post, and decided to lay it out here while my thoughts are fresh.

Children who do not have families are delayed physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally. Without the family dynamic, they don't have the ability to experience so many of the things that we take for granted every day. These delays look different in each child. Some children may be nearly on target in some areas and very, very weak in others, while other children may be just slightly weak across the board. Children who come from institutions where they are given more attention and care are generally far less delayed than children who are badly neglected, but all institutionalized children are delayed to some degree. One of the most exciting things about being an adoptive parent is to watch the child transform as they become part of a family. This is a gradual process, and it is difficult for both children and parents. Sometimes, particularly with older children, it can be painfully slow. But it is also a beautiful process, and the transformation from an orphan into a beloved son or daughter is striking.

We were first a part of this miracle in 2010 when we adopted Mikaela from Ukraine. Mikaela has Down Syndrome and was significantly undernourished at the time of her adoption. She was 11 months old, but developmentally was more like a 3 month old baby. She couldn't sit up or crawl and didn't have any idea how to play. She spent most of her time lying on her back in her crib dangling something over her face for stimulation. When she couldn't find anything to dangle, she just waved her fingers or scratched herself.

Those were the only ways she knew to entertain herself. Because of her very young age, Mikaela's transformation was quick and smooth. She bonded with Greg and me quickly, much like a newborn baby does. She learned to nurse and that helped her to gain weight and grow stronger. After a few months, she learned to sit up, and then a little later, she learned to crawl. She began to laugh and play and talk. And finally with much work Mikaela learned to walk right around her third birthday. Now, after three years as part of a family, she is on target or advanced in every single area for a child of her age with Down Syndrome. We are so proud of her, and we love her so much.

Last year, God made it clear to us that He was calling us to adopt again, and this time He led us to Isabelle and Hallie. When we met them in China in August, Hallie was far more delayed physically and developmentally, but Isabelle was struggling more with emotional delays. She genuinely didn't seem to have any idea how to express affection for others. She played well with children and adults, but had no idea how to hug or kiss at all. She didn't even seem to know how to be held. When we held her in our laps, she sat with her body stiff and held away from us. Their transformation is just beginning, and we look forward to watching these girls blossom in their family. In my last update, I shared more details about the progress that they are making. We are encouraged, but they both still have a very long way to go.

One of the most beautiful and unexpected blessings with this adoption story has been watching Mikaela with her two new sisters. All four kids have done great and welcomed them, but there is something especially touching about watching Mikaela with them. I know that she can't have any conscious memories of her own adoption because she was so young, but she seems to have some clear idea that there is something that she has in common with Isabelle and Hallie that the rest of the family doesn't share. She is like a little ambassador. She is eager to share her toys and is almost obsessed with making sure they are never left out of any activity. She tries to explain things to them, she "reads" books to them, and loves to teach them new things. She taught Hallie how to blow her candles on her birthday last week.

My favorite Mikaela story happened just about a month after we returned home from China. I had taken the three little girls out somewhere by myself and had just returned home. I unbuckled Mikaela and helped her jump down out of the van onto the sidewalk that leads up to our house. She took off at a happy trot, eager to go inside and see the other half of the family. Next I unbuckled Isabelle and set her down on the sidewalk. She started up the path with her slow awkward steps, holding her hands out in front of herself in case she fell. I then turned around to get Hallie. By the time I got her unbuckled and out of the van, Mikaela had noticed how much Isabelle was struggling and had turned back to help her. I looked just in time to see her take Isabelle's hand and say, " 'mon Bibel. 'mon." Slowly and patiently, Mikeala helped Isabelle all the way up the sidewalk to our back door. I stood there holding Hallie and watching the other girls with tears in my eyes. Mikaela was once so weak and helpless and broken that she couldn't do anything for herself. Nothing. And now, by the grace of God through the love of her family, she is so strong, and healthy and full of love that is is able to reach out to her two new sisters and bring them into the family as well. If that isn't a picture of the miracle of adoption, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

An Update on the Girls (But no pictures this time :-( ).

Isabelle and Hallie continue to blossom in our home, and it is now hard to remember what life was like without them. Hallie, especially, seems happier than she has ever been before. She is showing affection toward her brothers and sisters more and more readily, and seems to love each of the members of her family now. She is making both vowel and consonant speech sounds now, and even tries to say a few words. She will even initiate games of peek-a-boo or pat-a-cake with me or the other children. It has been wonderful to watch her grow and learn. Her feeding training is going slowly, but we are continuing to see progress with that as well. She will sit and watch me eat, and pretend to crunch and chew when I do, but she isn't interested in having any of my food in her mouth. She is willing (and sometimes even eager) to suck on pizza crust, crackers, or cucumbers now, but she doesn't try to bite it. We are so pleased with all the progress she is making, and we are having so much fun working with her and watching her.

Isabelle continues to do very well too, and she is a sweet and obedient child, but we both feel like she is a little bit uncertain about how she fits into our family. She doesn't seem as confident as Hallie in her interaction with us. She seems to hesitate a lot more before initiating play or affection with us, and she constantly looks back at us to see if we are approving of her. Many times each day, she asks us hopefully, "Good girl? Good girl?" No matter how many times we tell her that she is a good girl and that we love her very much, she seems to worry that she is not pleasing us. We feel bad for her, but we know that the only way to help her through this is to continue affirming our love for her, and that eventually she will be confident and secure with us all. It has been a little bit challenging to figure out how to treat her sometimes, because in some ways, she is so grown up, and in others, she is still quite a baby. We are struggling to find ways to let her be a big girl helper, because she seems to derive a lot of pride from helping, while still nurturing her as a baby. We have started giving her a little bottle of milk each night before bed, and she loves that. She curls up in my lap, and it is some of the best time we have together each day. It is the only time that she relaxes fully in my arms and snuggles with trying too hard. It feels so good to hold her when she isn't worried about trying to cuddle the "right" way.

All in all, they are both doing great, and we are so thankful for both of them.